Nick Offerman’s fifth book, Where the Dear and the Antelope Play: The Pastoral Observations of One Ignorant American who Loves to Walk Outside is as unnecessarily long and rambling as its title.
Arranged as a collection of three separate journeys, Where the Dear recounts actor/writer/humorist Nick Offerman’s hiking trip in Montana with Wilco musician Jeff Tweedy and writer George Saunders, his repeated visits to the farm home of James Rebanks, author of The Shepherd’s Life, outside of Liverpool, and finally a cross country ramble to various RV parks and trails with his wife Megan Mullaly. If you have not read any of Offerman’s other books, he writes like he speaks. The audiobook is available but his style is so singular just reading the book allows you easily to hear his voice and cadence. Throughout the essays, Offerman pontificates his views on the need for a return to an agrarian lifestyle, as well as reparations to the Native Americans we stole the land from and the Black people enslaved to build the country. He also really hates Trump and the Republicans standing in the way of progressive ideals but still lives a damn privileged life.
If that last sentence seems out of place with the first few you can now see the problem with this collection. One paragraph finds Offerman talking about hiking along a beautiful lake in Montana, the next he’s railing against the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. A treatise about the necessity of moving away from industrial farming to one that favors the natural balance of nature is interrupted with Offerman describing the beautiful sets of the FX series Devs. To be kind, Offerman is all over the place and while the call to return to agrarian focussed farming is decently researched, including quotes from noted environmentalists Aldo Leopold and Wendel Berry, the injection of his political opinions grinds the message to a halt.
Let me be clear, I agree largely with Offerman’s political and societal views. I too think industrial farming is bad for everything, I also am a fan of Michael Pollan, and pay attention to what I put in my body. I also loathe Trump, I hate the MAGA cult, I want every last one of his enablers in Washington to be thrown in jail for the rest of their lives as traitors. But I don’t need to read Offerman’s political opinions in a book ostensibly about national parks and returning to a farm-to-table lifestyle any more than you probably want to read mine in a review for a book on that subject matter. Make no mistake, his comments are amusing but this is not lighthearted subject matter to inject alongside stories about rafting trips and accidentally draining the RV batteries.
Offerman tends to get labeled a Libertarian, largely based on his role as Ron Swanson on the excellent Parks & Recreation. But he’s really not when it comes to his actual views.
He is very anti-MAGA but his own views are also naive and (he admits) coming from a place of middle-aged white male privilege. For instance, he talks about the complicated history of “Indian fighter” Kit Carson and how framing Native Americans as “savage” and less than human helps to justify the eradication of an enemy. Then mentions that Carson was eventually made a representative to various tribes as an Indian Affairs agent. What he fails to go into is how corrupt the agents in that agency were and how many of them stole shamelessly and provided the Native Americans under their care with garbage food while pocketing the saved money. He lauds the formation of the National Parks and protection of land from developers but then writes it would be better if this land was under the management of the Native Americans that we stole the land from in the first place. I can see his heart is in the right place, but it kind of misses the point I think.
The whole book is jarring in this way. He says farming should be in concert with nature not against it. He wholly rejects the notion that farming animals for meat is wrong and bad for the environment but writes the way we do it with industrial feed lots is the problem. However he doesn’t address how to feed 10B people without the machine of industrial farming. As you can imagine, I struggled with how to write this review. There are tonal issues all over the place and Offerman whiplashes between personal opinion and anecdotes constantly.
The book was written between 2019-2021 so it encompasses all the many (awful) events that occurred in that time span. I understand the lack of focus, I commiserate one hundred percent. It is a horrible time (ongoing), exhausting, and infuriating for various reasons, and it’s nowhere close to over. However, with a better focus and judicious editing, I think the book would be better. Offerman even calls the book “meandering” in his epilogue, and in his self-deprecating style, admits he doesn’t know anything, is a “dipshit” and isn’t an expert on this subject.
Bottom line, if you like Offerman’s other books I do recommend this one with reservations. It is an easy, mostly soothing read, that occasionally veers into political territory. Depending on your tolerance for that subject you may fare better than I.