As an avid outdoorsman with a strong connection to the land where I live, this collection of essay’s about nature and kindness had me excited for a modern day take on the nature essay genre.
But then I read it.
Where the Deer and the Antelope Play: The Pastoral Observations of One Ignorant American Who Loves to Walk Outside is part memoir and part personal essay’s/opinions from the wonderful Nick Offerman.
This book, his fifth I believe, was published by Dutton Books in October 2021.
“A humorous and rousing tour of America’s nature spots as well as a mission statement about loving, protecting, and truly experiencing the outdoors, inspired by three journeys undertaken by actor, humorist, and New York Times bestselling author Nick Offerman
Nick Offerman has always felt a kinship to the Land of the Free–not just to the people and their purported ideals but to the actual land itself. The bedrock, the topsoil, and everything in between that generates the health of your local watershed. In his new book, Nick takes a humorous, inspiring, and elucidating trip to America’s trails, farms, and frontier to celebrate the people, landscape, and stories, both historical and fresh, that have made it great.
The seeds of this book were planted in 2019, when Nick took two memorable journeys with friends–a hiking trip to Glacier National Park with his friends Jeff Tweedy and George Saunders, as well as an extended visit to his friend James Rebanks, the author of A Shepherd’s Life and English Pastoral. He followed that up with an excursion that could only have come about in 2020–Nick and his wife, Megan Mullally, bought an Airstream trailer to drive across the US in late 2020. All three journeys inspired some “deep-ish thinking from Nick, about the history and philosophy of our relationship with nature in our national parks, in our farming, and in our wildlife; what we mean when we talk about conservation; the importance of outdoor recreation; and the healthy building of both local and national communities across party lines, all subjects very close to Nick’s heart.
With witty, heartwarming stories, and a keen insight into the problems we all confront, this is both a ramble through and celebration of the land we all love.“
Where to even start with this book.
I’ve long been a fan of Nick Offerman and his work as an actor, speaker, woodworker, etc. I had sadly not had a chance to read any of his prior books and when I saw this one released I knew the time was right to fix that problem ASAP.
Based on the description of the book from places like Amazon and Goodreads, I was eager to settle into a nice, meandering, and thoughtful romp full of nature stories and the value of the outdoors.
The kind of book that would allow me to further grow my already large appreciation for the outdoors and give me some new ideas to think about the next time I was “in the woods”.
And this book delivers on that front beautifully, be it discussions from visits to National Parks or his tales of adventure as he spends time with new friends on a farm in the UK.
Offering wonderful views of the problems with our corporate agriculture system and how damaging it is to the land, people, and animals involved… which, spoilers, is all of us on this planet.
I was not disappointed in his musings on nature, the value of hard work, and the satisfaction of doing things the right way by the land we live on.
One of my favorite passages comes early on and(paraphrasing here) Offerman talks about how one of the great joys in life is finding a nice quiet spot out in nature, solitary and alone with just you and the outdoors, and then sipping coffee in the cool air while he just LISTENS to the wilderness around him.
As someone that would spend every day in the woods if I didn’t have to work, this spoke to me and I found myself feeling like I had found a kindred spirit in Mr. Offerman.
When he’s writing, with his subtle humor and wry twist of phrase, about nature… this book sang to my soul.
Amidst all that beauty were scattered the random political rants and temper tantrums.
FULL DISCLAIMER: I DON’T CARE ABOUT ANYONE’S POLITICAL AFFILIATIONS AND WILL NOT BE SPEAKING TO WHETHER I AGREE OR DISAGREE WITH NICK OFFERMANS VIEWS IN THIS BOOK.
Ok, just had to get that out there because my utter disdain for these sections of the book had nothing to do with his actual political views one way or the other.
It has EVERYTHING to do with the fact that they were just so completely unnecessary and honestly took all of the beauty found in the rest of the book. The important conversations about everything the book description talks about – ” A humorous and rousing tour of America’s nature spots as well as a mission statement about loving, protecting, and truly experiencing the outdoors, inspired by three journeys undertaken by actor, humorist, and New York Times bestselling author Nick Offerman” – and completely undermines the wonderful stories and messages he was so beautifully communicating.
The sections that get political feel instantly like we are being lectured and force fed all of the same doom and gloom present by scrolling social media or watching the news on any given day.
And frankly, they ALMOST made me put this book down and leave it as a DNF. Not because I agreed or disagreed with what he was saying, but simply because those ranting moments so severely contrasted and detracted from the beautiful stories he was sharing otherwise.
Your mileage may vary, naturally.
The Bottom Line
I read books because I enjoy learning, enjoy being taken places by the author, and enjoy the escape from the constant barrage of doom and gloom present in every day life these days.
When a book like this presents itself as a collection of essays and tales focused on nature, kindness, and a love of the outdoors it sounds like a beautiful escape to one of my favorite places to be… in nature.
But when that book suddenly slaps you repeatedly in the face with various political rants, regardless of if I agree or not, it feels like a massive betrayal.
As I said, when the ranting started I almost checked out. However Nick Offerman has a wonderful way of talking about the beauty, wonder, and appreciation of the outdoors and every time I’d ALMOST check out completely, he’d veer back into a tale of hiking National Parks, herding sheep, nurturing the land we live on, or simply the power of slowing down to really see, hear, and appreciate life wherever we are.
More than anything I wish I could get a version of this book with all the political ranting stripped away, leaving only the beautiful essays and tales that it actually promises in it’s title and description.
If this book had stayed focused on what it described itself to be, it would have been my first 5 star read of 2022.
But the all too common political ranting and raving made me want to give it a 1 star for how badly it tainted the beautiful parts.
So, I’ll split the difference and give this a 3 out of 5 stars.
Look, as I always say, your mileage may vary and you may not mind any of those asides in the book. As such, you may absolutely LOVE this read. I hope you do.
The book is FULL of wonderful, thought provoking moments told in witty and genuinely kind style by Mr. Offerman. The kind of writing that leaves you with something to mull over long after the words grace your mind.
I wanted so badly to LOVE this book, and I DID love a lot of it. Unfortunately it was spoiled some by it’s rants and foray’s into political territory that really didn’t seem to mesh with the overall message of kindness and love for nature.
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