On the bookshelf
Where the deer and the antelope play
By Nick Offerman
Dutton: 352 pages, $ 28
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In his latest book, “Where the Deer and the Antelope Play”, Nick Offerman describes a number of memorable nature hikes: hiking in Glacier National Park with a few friends who happen to be Wilco’s leader Jeff Tweedy and the Booker Prize winning author George Saunders; set off on an English farm with shepherd-turned-author James Rebanks; wandering the South West with his wife, actress Megan Mullally.
But the book is more than a name road trip. It’s an exploration of our relationship to the earth and the creatures that inhabit it – what it is now and what it should be – often incorporating the ideas of two different naturalists, John Muir and Aldo Leopold.
âMy books are usually an excuse for solving life issues that concern me right now,â says Offerman. His discursive style also allows him to take on everything from Kit Carson’s reputation to a personal mask-wearing philosophy and disdain for guys whose vehicles “growl, roar or whine in any way louder than necessary. “.
In a recent phone conversation about the book, Offerman explained that it all relates to his outlook on life: âThe way we deal with others with social and cultural issues is directly applicable to how we deal with life. rest of nature. “
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You are a comedian with a political inclination. Was it difficult to find the words to express your sincere communion with nature?
I’m such a fan of beautiful pastoral writing, from romantics to modern times, so it’s a special challenge. I want the reader to know how I felt on this trail or in this pasture, but I have seen it done so beautifully dozens of times that I am not going to try to find the lyrical sequence of adjectives and nouns. Instead, I go into personal experience and find the emotion that way.
When I jump up the hillside with my shepherd friend, it’s not my panache in describing the plant life or the bubbling stream that makes it work as much as the joy I felt in mending its stone wall. I aspire to convey that emotion more than to correspond to what Wordsworth might have said.
Much of the humor is self-deprecating; you recognize that it is strange to deliver an environmental message by driving an Airstream across the country. Is it guilt or a way of letting readers know that they don’t have to be perfectly righteous to strive for change?
I was brought up in the Catholic religion, so I’m programmed to feel guilty. But it’s important to be guilty and to comfortably admit it to each other. I invite everyone to be self-deprecating and say, âlet’s roll up our sleeves and see if we can do better tomorrow.
You also tease Jeff Tweedy for his wacky claims of heroism. There’s the rafting trip where he miraculously saves George Saunders’ glasses, then a dramatic fall (really a slide) down a mountain. Is Jeff really a drama queen?
Jeff is such an amazing songwriter and musician that it annoys me a bit when he’s as funny as he is – he’s hilariously hilarious. But the thing with him wasn’t much of a stretch; he was killing us by making fun of himself for essentially scratching his knee. His riffs on his heroic actions were a highlight of the trip.
You express your admiration for writers like Wendell Berry and Michael Pollan, but your book isn’t just a lot funnier, it’s a lot angrier.
I am aware of the resentment that permeates my work. That’s my opinion because I’m not as good a writer as they are. And I agree with that. We need all the colors to make a real painting. But after the tumultuous four years of the last presidency and the pandemic, I think my tone has become more measured. I looked at the messages from the people I admired and said, âLet’s just take a deep breath here. Funny and mean tweets don’t seem to appeal to us.
We are all stubborn, incredibly subjective animals, and we have to accept each other. My wise friend John Hodgman always says, âEveryone should be allowed to love what they love. “
This is a good place to start. I stopped making fun of my sister’s love for new country music and found that we’ve been getting along a lot better since then. But I would add to his quote, “within reason.” You can’t say, “I only like the white race,” for example.
And although I’ve tried to tone it down, there is a point where I say nasty things about the current governor of Texas. When I edited the book, I struggled to remove it. Luckily, he then did a few more incredibly heinous things that made me say, “Oh, I was on the right track.”
It’s hard to imagine a Republican reading this book. Do you worry about preaching to converts?
There will be singing for the choir, but I hope to convey my own confusion in life – this is our natural state – and the ways in which I have been slowly enlightened and – what is that beautiful word, sorry I am coming to wake up – inexorably. Slowly and inexorably. So I say, here are some things I learned, and maybe if I can train a few of my readers slowly but surely I’ll get us all to be a little more decent to each other and planet we live on.