Nature Sommelier Jacob Rodenburg: Plug In to Nature With Your Senses

Last updated February 20, 2024

Author and self-titled nature sommelier Jacob Rodenburg teaches us how to unplug from technology and plug in to nature through the wonder of our five senses.

Jacob Rodenburg believes many of us have a broken relationship with nature. “As people hunch over their computer screens, hermetically sealed away, they’re only seeing the world in two dimensions. They’re missing something—they disconnect from the earth.” 

It’s what Rodenburg terms “sensory anesthesia,” a result of being distracted by screens and a life lived indoors. 

A self-titled nature sommelier, Jacob Rodenburg created his moniker to explain what he regularly does and hopes most of us would do, too: activate all our senses during the experience of being in nature. Similar to the way a sommelier uses all their senses to describe wine. 

“Perhaps we can practice drinking in the natural world through all of our senses. Can we cultivate sensefulness, a full-bodied connection to the world around us?”

We already know there is mounting evidence that spending time in nature enhances our physical and mental health. Nature boosts our mood and energy levels, helps us to focus better and improves the quality of our sleep.

A recent article for the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology details these benefits: “…spending time in nature can act as a balm to our busy brains… being exposed to natural environments improves working memory, cognitive flexibility and attentional control, while exposure to urban environments is linked to attention deficits.” 

Jacob Rodenburg: We Need Nature

Rodenburg says we need to rekindle our bond with the outdoors, instead of spending, as many of us do, almost 10 hours a day in front of a screen. We need to cure our nature deficit. 

Immersed in outdoor education for over 25 years, nature sommelier Jacob Rodenburg has seen how the built world creates segregation between humans and nature, relegating it to a section and using language to objectify and denigrate undeveloped or unused areas in cities. 

“Why do we call it a vacant lot? Because something isn’t built there? It’s a green space.” 

Rodenburg wishes we viewed our wild spaces as inclusive and speak of them with love and intimacy, admiring Indigenous peoples who view the earth, sky and water like family. 

“Our community shouldn’t be just people and housing; living systems need to be treated with kindness.” 

As the Executive Director of award-winning Camp Kawartha and Camp Kawartha Outdoor Education Centre in Ontario, Canada, Jacob Rodenburg holds a Master of Education. He is also a part-time instructor at Trent University’s School of the Environment. 

“We need to be taught about nature’s life force.” 

A proponent of outdoor education for over 25 years, Rodenburg considers the current education system structured to be focused on indoor education—fixated on the past and restrictive. 

His work has led him not only to inspire the younger generation, but also student teachers and early childhood educators, who he has worked with on how to incorporate outdoor education into curriculums across Canada.  

Jacob Rodenburg: See Nature in a New Way

The Book of Nature Connection: 70 Sensory Activities for All Ages is Jacob Rodenburg’s latest book, with practical tips to help make those necessary links with Mother Nature. 

Dividing the book between the five senses—Natural Sounds, Seeing Nature, World of Smell, World of Touch, Tasting the World—Rodenburg makes it easy to incorporate these activities. 

Simple crafts are easily made and ideas that won’t cost even a cent can spark exploration in your urban backyard, park or on the trail. 

Rodenburg began writing this book before the pandemic. But he already knew it was needed, especially as he sees social media providing an illusion of connection. 

“When I go for a walk, I listen to birds. I recognize their songs like hearing the voice of a friend,” shares Rodenburg. Knowing the name of trees is the beginning, it’s like knowing the character in a story.”

Activities to Make Sense of Nature

One activity recommended by nature sommelier Jacob Rodenburg is to practice how to recognize psithurism aka tree songs. It’s the sound of the wind in the trees, and each tree makes its own song. 

Rodenburg recommends using Plantsnap, a plant identifier app, to choose a tree, sit beneath it, close your eyes and listen. 

Pine trees typically make a whooshing sound, oak and maple trees have more of a chattering quality while aspens shiver in the wind. After listening, write down the sounds, and on the next windy day, sit beneath the trees and listen again.

“Savor the wind’s symphony of soft music that strums the leaves and plucks the branches of nearby trees. In nature, there is music everywhere, if we take time to stop, listen and enjoy.”

Another tip is to ignite your innate curiosity. We often go from one place to another, says Rodenburg, focused on ticking off that box of completion. Instead, we should take time with the environment. 

Of all the paths you can take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.

John Muir

“Take 10 steps, stop and hunker down. Notice the leaves and the rocks, look for a spider’s web, try to find an insect. Pay attention to the details.” 

Rodenburg also recommends gathering loose items when out for a walk—leaves, a piece of moss, branches—and making a smell cocktail. Place everything in a small cup and stir. Try to discern the combination of scents, like when discerning the bouquet at a wine tasting. 

“Scent is connected to some of our strongest memories,” says Rodenburg. “People can distinguish more than one trillion scents—why not remind yourself what is in your surroundings?”

Promoting Green Escapes

With a deep belief in education and immersion, Rodenburg knows that starting early is key to protecting our environment. But it’s never too late. “It can be as simple as going for a nature walk and lifting a rock to see what’s underneath.” 

Getting outside and going to the same places repeatedly is a great way to make a nature connection. No doubt this will give us a green escape that quickly becomes a habit. 

“Those who spend a lot of time outside become fierce activists,” says Rodenburg. He wholeheartedly knows that if we don’t take time to savor and connect to nature, we won’t learn to protect our natural world. 

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