I am a biased reviewer. I’ve read and loved all of Nick Offerman’s previous books, and have laughed uproariously at his comedy shows. I’ve watched “Parks & Rec” all the way through several times, and think “Devs” is brilliant. I greatly admire the work Offerman and the rest of the crew do at the Offerman Woodshop. He is an altogether nice fellow. So, I was wholly prepared to enjoy his new book, “Where the Deer and the Antelope Play: The Pastoral Observations of One Ignorant American Who Loves to Walk Outside.”
The book – a response to a challenge from one of Offerman’s heroes, writer Wendell Berry – is in three parts, each exploring a different type of relationship to the land, and our relationships to one another. Throughout, Offerman asks us to confront uncomfortable truths that have helped shape much of the land as we know it today – and he’s not shy with his opinions on racism, strident Christianity, agribusiness, Fox News and more. I sing in the same liberal choir, so I found myself nodding in agreement, but I expect some who are (still!) expecting Ron Swanson will be disgruntled. But perhaps Offerman’s sardonic and self-deprecating humor, and the genuine delight with the natural world that pervades every page, will be enough to keep them reading.
The first part shares a tourist’s relationship with nature – getting out in it through a “bromance brothers” trip to Glacier National Park with Offerman, singer Jeff Tweedy and writer George Saunders. While hiking, rafting, and navigating a couple of scary incidents that could have ended Wilco, the friends had serious and enlightening conversations ranging from food production to Aldo Leopold, and from race relations to how not to be an asswipe. By the end of the trip, writes Offerman, “We three middle- aged white guys, ever aware of our privilege, had taken pretty full advantage of the recreation available in the glorious acreage that some other white guys had set aside for just that purpose.”
In the second part, Offerman helps to shape nature in a small way as he works alongside Cumbrian sheep farmer and writer James Rebanks in a number of flying visits. In this section, Offerman focuses on labor, how agriculture has shaped the land, the ethics of farming and the necessity of ecological stewardship. “We must understand that we are not passive passengers on this mothership Earth, but instead we must participate in the journey, whether that means grabbing an oar and helping to row, or feeding the crew, or holystoning the decks. Only then will we be able to help steer this venerable vessel away from the shopping mall/ Amazon.com and toward the woods and the meadow and the beck.”
The first two sections took part prior to the pandemic, and while Offerman ambles metaphorically through many topics therein, both are (mostly) located in one physical place. Part three is more of a ramble of both place and political topic. With time on their hands due to Covid-19, Offerman and his wife, Megan Mullally (and their dog, Clover), spent the fall of 2020 traveling with an Airstream trailer through West, Midwest and Southwest, safely visiting friends and family, and hiking the trails in some gorgeous locations. (He would like you to know, however, that “Sedona blows” and you shouldn’t bother.) I couldn’t find one quotation I felt summed up the section, but the following is a decent distillation of the book as a whole: “Mother Nature is not an American, and she is not proud. She is all creation, so her vibe encompasses all experience, in every size, shape, and color, from the high to the low. Her economy and its successful evolution thrive on diversity, and her children never rest in their glorious participation, reproducing and adapting, so as to grow ever stronger.”
The above makes the “Where the Deer and the Antelope Play” sound altogether serious – and there is no doubt that Offerman cares passionately about nature and our role in it – but it’s also a funny and entertaining travelogue. And in case I haven’t made it clear: highly recommended.
23 thoughts on “Book Review: ‘Where the Deer and the Antelope Play,’ by Nick Offerman”
Sounds great and very Nick Offerman, who i also really love.
Great review Fitz
Thank you, Megan. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy — and that should happen this week.
” and he’s not shy with his opinions on racism, strident Christianity, agribusiness, Fox News and more. I sing in the same liberal choir, so I found myself nodding in agreement”: so I will try to be kind here: woodworking is one of the few endeavors where we can escape the politics of the day: please don’t ruin that.
Probably should be spending less time reading the blog of a publisher known for his series of books with “Anarchist’s” in the title.
Maybe you can escape the politics; I cannot. When woodworking is equally inclusive of all genders and races, perhaps that will be possible.
Speaking only for myself, I think ‘politics’ is a natural dynamic whenever there’s a non-homogenized group. So it’s not the politics that bother me. It’s the people who can’t find a way to adapt, have a conversation, and try to find a way to get along fairly.
In that vein, I’ll have to check out the book.
Thanks, Megan. 🙂
Cannot or will not? Escape politics, you escape tribalism and you may enter a world where people are already included in this art we so cherish.
Perhaps you should go bark up another tree. These days life is politics. Woodworkers are living life. And we tend to be liberal. That just is. If you wanna avoid politics you’ll have to just stay in your house and close your eyes and ears. Good luck with that.
I don’t have a dog in the fight here, but that comment is completely unfounded and unable to be supported or backed up. I’m not saying it isn’t accurate, but if I were to say the exact opposite, you wouldn’t be able to refute me, I don’t think. Bias works both ways. Not looking to start an argument at all. Literally just saying there’s no way that statement can be backed up, so I’m just pointing that out. Much love and now back to woodworking!
Meaning the comment about tending to be liberal ^
I got to see Nick’s live show just a few months before the pandemic hit. I liked him and his views enough to buy a ticket, obviously. I came away liking him a whole lot more. I’ll be buying his book, for sure.
Thanks for this review and info about this book I might not have seen otherwise; I look forward to reading it!
I’m putting in an order at my local bookseller forthwith.
I admire Nick as a woodworker, but not as a commentator of all things. I loved “Good Clean Fun” but I found some of his other books (Gumption, Twain’s Feast) to be a bore. Sorry, but I’m not interested in more musings about outdoor stuff from him. Just give me the woodworking!
I feel like that quote, “Mother Nature is not an American, and she is not proud,” expresses recent feelings I have not been able to put into words. Great review, I always look forward to another of Nick’s books. Thanks!
Good article by someone I respect.
I’ve often thought that if my time in Cali had been different, Nick and I could have been buds. Having been a tour guide of the Gamble house and received a private tour of the Nakashima workshop from Mira herself, I think we have a bit in common (not to mention being a graduate of the Groundlings in Hollywood). Thanks MS Fitz for the insight.
Offerman isn’t my bag, but I am curious about Megan’s book. 🙂 How far out do you guys sense the Dutch Tool Chest book is? I have had supply chain matters run roughshod over too many different areas of my life to not expect “next year” to be the best case scenario, but thought I would ask anyway. Just in case it’s on the horizon. 😉
Erm…next year — but early next year!
yay! fortunately you don’t have to witness my poorly executed happy dance. but I am doing one, just so you know. 🙂
The scenes in Parks and Recreation where Sam Elliot and Nick Offerman (or Ron Swanson) shared the screen completely blew my mind apart and left me squeeling with delight like a little kid. Sam Elliot’s character in the show was like a TV world representation of the Nick Offerman from the real world. The show had such great woodworking moments too. If only they could have gotten Roy Underhill to cameo.
Nice review, Megan. And there’s nothing controversial in the book, beyond an “impassively droll master of the beltie” making a salacious joke about birds.
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