Today’s blog is an Interview with Jacob Rodenburg, author of The Book of Nature Connection, featuring a question asked by a reader on social media.
What is your favourite nature sensory activity?
The scent cocktail: We don’t pay enough attention to our sense of smell. But this is one of our most ancient and evocative senses, directly linked to our memory. Take a wet sponge and moisten your upper lip. The moistness helps us to smell better. Take a small cup and harvest just tiny pits of the natural world. A smidgen of pine, a dab of soil, a small piece of moss, a few grass seedheads. Think of an honourable harvest – taking just a tiny bit from here and from there. And if you can, give back by sprinkling native wildflower seeds (milkweed for example). Use a stick as a swizzle stick, and gently crush the contents of your cup. Take a deep whiff, and savour. Give it a name for example: “soilicious, “wildflowerpower,” “forestopia”). Share your scent cocktails with others.
How can we bring more nature back into people’s lives?
There is nature right outside your door. It is there in the crack in the pavement with a wildflower bravely reaching skyward. It is there in a patch of grass along the sidewalk, or that tree arching over your neighbour’s yard. We just need to notice what is right in front of us. Think of connecting to nature as a relationship. And just like a relationship, it takes intention, work, mindfulness, empathy, and compassion. Get to know a natural place near your home – go to it over and over again so that you bear witness to your special spot through the changing seasons. Just sit and open up all of your senses. Begin to know the characters of this space – so that smear of green resolves itself into different species – that tall white pine, with a scar along its side; or that grove of cedars with the sweet-smelling boughs. Listen, really listen – so that wall of sound becomes the chickadee with its unique three-whistled song “hey sweetie;” or tune into the different sounds the wind makes through each type of tree. Smell the life that is a handful of earth, the pungent aroma of moss, and the moistness of the air. Feel the different textures of bark, and the stones in your space. By getting to know and experience your special spot, you’ll begin to feel a part of the land – not as a visitor or an occupier, but as someone who shares a space with other living things.
You can rewild – just don’t mow your whole lawn. Leave a patch. Plant native shrubs with berries (like serviceberry), plant wildflowers and native trees. Think each day – I occupy this place; what can I do to make where I live just a bit more nature-rich? What can I do that creates more good, not just less harm? Can I put up birdhouses, bird feeders, butterfly and toad houses? Can I make a concerted effort to know who lives in my neighbourwood? That means you come to think of your community as consisting of more than just houses, people, and roads, but includes your natural neighbours, too. Our brains are hardwired to listen to stories – get to know the stories of your natural neighbours – the mourning cloak butterfly that is the first to come out in spring, the feisty cardinal whose slurred whistles are both urgent and beautiful as he calls for his mate, the acrobatic squirrel that races through the treetops. Recognize that this space has been home to thousands of generations before you and will be home (we hope) to thousands of generations into the future. What would your ancestors say about your actions today?
Some call you the nature sommelier. What does this term mean?
In a world where many of us spend upwards of 8 to 10 hours per day in front of screens, with only two of our senses activated (our sight and hearing), I worry that we are experiencing a kind of sensory anesthesia. We can learn from sommeliers, who practice savouring wine by activating all their senses. A sommelier might say this wine has robust red colour, its bouquet is spicy and nutty, its flavour harmonious, it feels velvety on the tongue. They love wine because they appreciate it and – just as importantly -- they practice appreciating it. I’m convinced that if we go into nature with all our senses tuned and primed, we’ll deepen both our appreciation and our connection to the natural world. But like a sommelier, we need to practice using all our senses. In this book I hope to show you some simple ways in which this can be done.
I also believe that there is a part of us that yearns to connect to nature – we were born biophilic (loving nature). And when we are disconnected because of our busy lives and our technologically saturated world, we feel a measure of loneliness (missing nature). When we unplug our devices and plug into the natural world through our senses, we feel less alone and more complete. We feel a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves.
Winning Giveaway Question
What inspired you to write a book about nature connection?
I think we have made a mistake. We think that climate change is the problem. And yes, it is a problem, but it is a symptom of an even bigger problem – our broken relationship with nature. As we infuse our lives with ever more technology, build ever more buildings, roads, and cities, we are becoming more and more disconnected from nature. I use the term “nature apartheid” to indicate how our immediate environment is devoid of nature. Part of the answer is to bring nature back into our lives; we will not protect what we do not love, and we can’t love the natural world unless we fully and deeply experience it. We were born to sense the world around us. If we take the time to savour the natural world with all of our senses tuned and primed, if we take notice, we’ll come to love, appreciate, protect, and enhance the very life systems that support and nurture us.