The critical balance and health of our planet, and how our lifestyles, economics, and religious views towards nature have contributed to the problem, have been the topic of much debate and news headlines in recent years. The relevance and urgency of climate change became very apparent to many who were listening when its devastating effects came close to so many people who lost their homes, livelihoods, and even their lives during Katrina, the Haiti and Chilean earthquakes last year, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and the Tsunami of Japan this year. Scientists, politicians, religious leaders and activists have said their piece and rallied even to the United Nations to make governments and people aware around the world of the importance and responsibility we all share to protect our planet and the resources of nature, so we can ensure our very survival and future. But the one that has remained apparently silent and has yet to speak out is nature itself. Thanks to the extraordinary artistic work and photography of Katalina Nicolas, a passionate and professional young photographer, the subtle face, voice and Spirit of nature comes alive and clearly into view with a clear message, a message you do not want to miss. SuperConsciousness Magazine had the privilege to interview and speak to Katalina Nicolas, where she tells us what she has discovered and learned and how it has changed her understanding and relationship to Mother Earth. In her own words, “It is part of us returning to wholeness again!”
SC: Tell us a little about yourself, where you come from and what has been your journey as a photographer and lover of nature.
Katalina Nicolas: I grew up in the Los Angeles area, in the L.A. sprawl. I left 17 years ago with 40 dollars in a van, and lived out of it. I started adventuring, and have been living in wild beautiful places this whole time. Northern California, Colorado, and Utah was my circuit for a long time, going back and forth, in both mountain and desert areas.
It was easy to live tuned into nature when I was living in the wild. Now I am living in an agricultural area after living in mostly wild places for 12 years. It has been great. There is a lot of water out here. Living in the country has been an adjustment for me. Remembering the wildness of nature here, even though it has been clear cut long ago, I’m now surrounded by hay fields, it is a very different experience.
I took photography classes at college, and then I met Kate Thompson, who is an outdoor adventure photographer for magazines, and worked and apprenticed with her for years. She taught me so much. And then I worked for J.T. Thomas, who is an incredible photojournalists. Also I traveled to Mexico with Bill Hatcher on a photography mission. He is a National Geographic photographer. I got to spend some good time with him and his techniques. So my training has been mostly apprenticeships, rather than school programs. I have been self-taught.
SC: How did you first discovered the beings and faces from nature that are revealed in your photography and what made you decide to share it?
KN: The first time — I was already doing some photography — I was just laying there on the river. It happened a couple of times in the Yuba River up in Nevada City, California. I was looking across and seeing all these spirits in the seam, between the water and the rock and plants, and just started to take some photos. I forgot about it for a few years and then went camping down there one day, and when I woke up in the morning and looked at it again, remembered, and started taking photos. I got really passionate about it. I thought it was so amazing and wanted to share it with people. That was probably 13 or 14 years ago. I started bringing my camera with me to these places from then on and started exploring all kinds of rivers, as many rivers as I could get to. That is what gave birth to my collection I call River Totems. The images reminded me of the Totem Poles of the Northwest natives right away, as there were so many beings stacked up on top of each other, that went into each other, and some of them were within each other. The name just came to me right then, River Totems.
I started having experiences with them. I felt that they were telling a story, which is different to each of us because we all have our different ways of perceiving. One person will see an angel in the same image that another person will see something scary or a demon. They speak to each of us differently and have a story and a message, whether it is just how they make us feel or a direct message from nature. It is different for everybody. There is not just one interpretation that is the correct one.
I have done a lot of art boots for gallery shows and have been witnessing this in people. It is just fascinating to witness, hear, and listen to people’s different experiences. I am still exploring that. It is fascinating.
The image that has the strongest reactions is The Celestial [see art provided with article]. It is a River Totem and is a really intense image. It looks like an alien or celestial being to some, mostly an alien. That is what most people see in it. Other people see it as a ghost and it spooks them out and cannot even look at it. There was one day when various people who saw that one image of The Celestial had the reaction of it being a ghost, spooky, or could not even look at it. And then another person came in later and was touched by it to the point of tears, because she saw an angel. This happened all in one day! But most people see an alien. I see a celestial being, a star being that is really beautiful and crystalline. It is almost as if it were popping in from another dimension to speak and say, “I am here. I exist!” I feel a very loving light about The Celestial, and definitely nothing fearful or dark. I took that picture at the Yuba River, which is one of the most enchanting rivers. I am most intimate with that river and lived near it for many years.
They speak to each of us differently and have a story and a message
The Celestial is in the Yuba River pool, and also The River Pixie, The River Queen, two of the strongest, early images that really spoke to me, in a sense, that they wanted to be shared with the world. They are in the same pool yet are quite different. They are from the early days. I went back to that pool about two years ago and I felt that they were really excited to see me again! They were welcoming and this little newt came up to me, very unusual, and it was just determined, almost with intention, it seemed. It walked right up to me and stared me in the face for 5 minutes. I have an image of that newt. It just felt really clear that it was welcoming me back and it was good to see me. I thank them for the journey they have brought me on, all these beings in the water and rock, because they have taken me on quite a journey. I feel like I have this interaction with those beings, and it is beautiful and amazing. And it feels really clear that I am not imposing on them.
I feel enchanted and touched by nature. It is definitely hard when I leave the river from such enchanted spaces to talk to people for a couple of hours after. When I go there, I feel like I have these beings going, “Hey, I am over here. Look at me!” grabbing my attention and having different experiences with them. It happens when I am completely out of my head and in my heart and am really feeling the wind come to the trees and the water going down the rivers, soothing and speaking. It is in this listening and receptive space when it happens, when I am not trying and in my head. It is mostly when I am alone and not distracted by other people around me when it happens.
Something in me will not let me settle for the day-to-day, 40-hour job. I feel that there is also something in me saying to keep going with this. The more confidence I have in myself and the more I share it, the more people I am meeting who are receptive and touched by it and having these experiences. So I am starting to realize that the earth is really coming alive and wants to share and remind us of our connection with nature.
This last week particularly, since I have been thinking about this interview, and the opportunity to share this with others, I opened up more because I needed to talk about it, instead of holding it all in. I was surprised to find out that all these people are having these experiences and are touched by what I share with them. I have seen this increasingly more around me, particularly this year. It is becoming really clear that the more I step out, I am not alone in this.
I was candy-coating what I saw and experienced with nature for a long time, trying to keep it cute and simple because I did not want to overwhelm anyone. But I am also seeing that the planet is needing our love and we need the planet’s love, we need nature. It is time for more than just having these visions. It is time that I speak and share them.
It is becoming really clear that the more I step out, I am not alone in this
SC: How did you come up with the mirroring technique that reveals those faces and beings and portals? Tell us about your technique.
KN: For a long time I was a purist about my work, and I was really proud to say these images were not manipulated. Digital photography was just coming out and most people when they saw my River Totems discredited them to digital manipulation. It was always great to be able to say, “No, this is nature. This is there. This is how it is.” And then about two years ago, inspired by the reflections on the water, I was messing around in Photoshop, and split an image and mirrored it. I can show you that first image, it is called the Yuba Shrine. [see support image provided] I almost threw that image away a few times because it was overexposed. But, oh, my gosh, when I opened it up, it was so powerful and touching, incredible and beautiful, and such a portal into another dimension. It was so amazing that I had to share that too. That is how that technique happened and that was the first one I made. Now when I go out, I see half of these things, half of faces and things, and it has made it possible for me to find a lot more in nature, because the faces, portals and beings are not just in the still water of rivers in certain times of year, which are often hard to find. But now I am seeing these Spirits everywhere. I can even see them in city structures, sometimes. I am trained to see them now. But that simple technique is all I do. I am trying to keep it pure so that it is still mostly nature’s doing. I am just participating with it now with a simple little piece of opening it up so we can see it.
SC: How do you think nature likes you for revealing its face to the world? Do you think it would prefer to remain hidden, its message private and secret? What has been your personal experience being alone and communicating with nature?
KN: No. There is no more hiding anymore. I feel that this time in our evolution is the lifting of the veil. There are no more secrets. It is the time for the teachings to come out, for the message to come out. They are not just for selected people anymore. It needs to be available for everyone. We need nature for our healing. We need to remember our connection. That is what I feel from my experience. I almost feel I am being asked to share this, that she is alive and multidimensional and healing and full of wisdom and has a message for us. The message I perceive she wants to communicate is that she is alive, that she is a spiritual realm, and that we are a reflection of that, that we are a part of that. She wants for us to remember that right now and I feel that it is really healing for Mother Earth and for us as well. It is our lifeline to wholeness, in a sense.
My experiences with nature so far have shown me that all exists right here, simultaneously, all is simultaneously existing. Beings from maybe other realms are poking through nature because nature is an expression of God and existence in the universe — macrocosm/microcosm — what is in the entire universe is also in a stone.
I feel that this time in our evolution is the lifting of the veil. There are no more secrets
I have my own personal journey that I am working with right now in realizing that nature is all around us and not far away, wherever we are, because I have really been grieving not living in a wild place like I did the last 15 years. And I am still out in the country, I am not in a town, but I am still on a bunch of land. It is agricultural, and it is different from the wild. Part of the place I am coming to is that nature is all around us no matter where we are. Incorporating my memories of being out there living in the wilderness helps me, when sometimes it becomes mundane right here in the farm. I quickly then remember the magic that is there, that is really going on, and then nature becomes alive again around me. I had this vision that if we all remember the wildness in the spot wherever we are, in the city, wherever, that it helps Mother Nature come back stronger.
When we get caught up and spun-out in life, if we go to nature and become vulnerable and open our hearts and let that magic happen, things become really clear for us. It wipes away all that stress and helps us come to understand what is real in life. There is so much guidance from nature and purification from all the chaos, calming, and guidance.
I have been having these experiences with wild life when I am really quiet in those places with nature, wild life walking right up to me. Just two weeks ago a mountain lion walked right up to me. Right before it came into my view, I was pondering something which was an epiphany to me. I was contemplating that if we are in right relationship with all beings, and living in connection with the rhythms of nature and nature herself, that nature will guide and protect us, and we do not need to fear nature. And at that precise moment, the mountain lion starts strolling up to me. It wasn’t in attack, pounce, or hunt mode. It was just walking right up to me. I didn’t trust it yet. I got all scared and yelled, “Mountain lion!” and it run off. But that was when it was already four feet from me. At ten feet, I said, “Is that a mountain lion?” — this is in the moon light — and then at about seven feet I said to myself, “That IS a mountain lion,” and it kept coming towards me, steadily. Then at four feet I yelled, “Mountain lion!” and it started off. But if I had trusted it, what would have happened? Because that was exactly the epiphany and realization that I was having at the time, feeling like we are protected by the animal kingdom and nature kingdom when we are in right relationship and in heart-connection with it. Having a heart-connection I think is what a lot of it comes down to.
I was contemplating that if we are in right relationship with all beings, and living in connection with the rhythms of nature and nature herself, that nature will guide and protect us, and we do not need to fear nature
It is in those phases that that happens, it seems like, where guidance and epiphanies — profound epiphanies — seem to happen. I would say it is 17 years now since I have been on a very intense spiritual path with nature and the earth and it has definitely grown me to be where I am and who I am right now. These experiences definitely have changed every cell in my being. I am pretty happy. I feel like we all have a lot to help each other remember by sharing our vision. And when we come together, we can have much more understanding.
SC: Do you practice or follow a specific religion, ritual, or spirituality?
KN: I wish for everyone to have that experience of time alone in nature and really connecting. If we had that time to nurture and heal ourselves, I think it would be life changing for all. I do a lot of vision quests, the Lakota Hanble’ceya, where people can go out and fast in nature. People’s lives change dramatically from these vision quests.
It is not that I follow a religion. Some of the times I need to go out by myself and reflect on a lot. I went on a Hanble’ceya vision quest recently where I went out and did a ceremony and stayed out in a circle of sage. There is a whole ceremony of sending out and when you get out there you are in the spirit realm. It is a communion with the universe and the earth and all things. That was one of the ceremonies I went to this year, and the other one was a sun dance ceremony. I stayed for two days and one night in the circle of sage this time. It goes for as long as needed until you feel complete. But for a lot of native traditions it could be four days and four nights long.
I met the Lakota before I began taking photos of the River Totems and the Nature Portals. I was only 19 — so that was 17 years ago. The Lakota definitely opened me up to nature, and the Mother Earth as a living being, and my spiritual connection with all things.
Before I ever met the Lakota, when I was a teenager in Los Angeles area, I was definitely a troubled youth, and was messed up on drugs. When I got off drugs I started going up into the mountains, the San Bernardino mountains, every day, some times two or three times a day because something happened out there. I started receiving all this wisdom and healing and understanding, and I was raised Catholic and was surrounded by Christians! My experiences in the mountains did not match with what I was taught in the Catholic Church, but at the same time, it was so clear that it was truth. I felt like I was being downloaded with healing and understanding, and so when I met the Lakota and heard of Mother Earth, it deeply resonated with me.
I had a lot of healing of the shame out there in nature. She taught me a lot about that, healed a lot of that shame, and made that very clear for me from my Catholic religious upbringing. If you are a recovering Catholic, go and spend a lot of time in nature alone!
SC: What is the difference between River Totems and Nature Portals?
KN: I still do both, first of all. There are some images of the Nature Portals that happened with so much serendipity and magic. Sometimes I will clearly see half of the face of a being but not always. Sometimes I will see something, an interesting shape or design, and I will go home and split it and still see nothing. But then I may turn it around and, oh, my gosh, this incredible being pops out. So for something like that to happen is not always very conscious or intentional. A lot of magic like that happens with serendipity, as if nature is working with me on that.
If you are a recovering Catholic, go and spend a lot of time in nature alone!
I have made portals from River Totems, too. The totems have water reflections, yet it is possible for me to keep receiving these beings or places in nature not exclusively through rivers. I changed the name because they are different and I am working with them. I am putting them apart and participating, manipulating them by splitting and mirroring them. River Totems are also portals into the nature realm, the spiritual realm of nature. That was just the name that came to me. The first time I opened a Nature Portal, that’s what came to me, that it was a portal to this whole other dimension. Even if it is just for our imagination, the portal seems to have a Spirit as well, for sure.
They are quite similar to the River Totems. And again it is different for everyone because we are each perceiving it differently. It reveals something of ourselves, for one. We each have our individual unique experience with them so it opens up something to each of us if we look and go into it. Also, from the other side, there are beings with a message, it seems to me, beings with a presence, with a Spirit. Some of them are so strong. I do not know if they are just faces of consciousness — manifested faces of consciousness — that come together in the alchemy of opening and splitting the images, or coincidence, or what. I do not know. But it opens up a portal to these beings and presences and faces of consciousness and places that affect us if we are open to them.
SC: The word mirror is intriguing as it comes up again and again in your work. It started with the mirror reflection on the river water. Your technique is mirroring something that is not readily seen. You have to have the eyes to see it, as you explained, but it also mirrors something back to us. So it is not just a portal to look into another being that reveals itself quite magically but it is also mirroring something back to us about ourselves. Can you tell us more about this mirror effect and what it means to you?
KN: I have been meditating on the mirror aspect a lot for the last five years, but especially this year. For example some of the Nature Portals are an opening from the center — the center is opening up — and then some of them are these faces in stone. These faces in stone on their own are not very apparent but when we split them into two faces looking at each other, one really brings out the other. And what is that? That shows us that everything is a reflection, and we are all reflections, and nature is a reflection. This has been really fascinating to me and I almost feel like when two beings or people or two things reflect each other, it opens up this whole other world. This is such an interesting thought.
Also, from the other side, there are beings with a message, beings with a presence, with a Spirit - This teaches me a lot about ourselves, that we are a reflection and that it always can change
I do want to reflect on the mirror effect because, again, the experience that we individually have with them is different. When it comes to River Totems, particularly, I will find some dark and shady bends in rivers and the beings and faces that show up are way more gargoyle like and demonic. And what is it in me that is projecting that? It is almost like nature can help us sort out what our projections from our experiences and our lives are so far, because the river bend is just reflecting back. Are those really deep dark scary spirits in the shady bend of the river or are they just our experience we see reflected there? I don’t know, there are so many mirrors. Nature is like a house of mirrors. I am still meditating on the mirror idea because it is definitely a strong piece of the puzzle.
A friend of mine last night, even, one of my girlfriends was over and she was pointing out some things that she sees in one of the portals that I had never seen before, and I have been looking at it forever. Her vision has completely transformed how I see this image now. Sometimes I get stuck on what I see and it is hard to see what other people see. But this time it completely transformed the image and I can see it every time I look at it now. This teaches me a lot about ourselves, that we are a reflection and that it always can change.
It is actually pretty amazing and an honor to peek into people’s perceptions and personal experiences. I think it is a forever unfolding journey. Some of these images, ten years from now, we will surely see different things.
I feel that we have come to this point in our evolution where Mother Earth is going through a huge transformation, and because we are part of her so are we, as well. It is all a reflection and what is happening outside of us is happening within us. All the ways that aren’t in harmony with nature, with each other, are crumbling. And it is becoming really apparent for us to really be able to get it. I feel we are the ones who can heal the Mother Earth. I hope that these things, like the oil spill in the gulf of Mexico, breaks people’s hearts open to caring about the earth again and honoring and being sacred with her and her resources. I feel it is crucial that we remember our connection with nature and that she is not to be abused and sucked dry. As a human race, we are remembering. There are so many people that are so inspiring and are coming together and becoming more sustainable in their communities. More and more people want to heal and care about the earth and want to help her heal.
That is a big part of the reason why I chose to live in a farm and close to nature. We grow a lot of our own food, we can and dry food, and have chickens, and are working on becoming more sustainable and more in balance with nature, not taking too much, and buying locally. I feel Mother Nature is going through a huge healing and transformation and so are we. I believe that these beings in my pictures are saying that they want to help people remember the magic and the healing that we can have with nature. It is part of us returning to wholeness again!
I would like to say, last, that through remembering nature we’ll remember more of ourselves, our origins, our Higher Self or Heart-Self. We can heal our hearts and we can help nature heal through remembering her spirit.
I believe that these beings in my pictures are saying that they want to help people remember the magic and the healing that we can have with nature
For more information and photographs from Katalina Nicolas, please visit: http://www.rivertotems.com/ or Face Book fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/River-Totems-Photography-by-Katalina-Nicolas
What is your reaction or the message you perceive from The Celestial from the Yuba River by Katalina Nicolas? - Tell us below!