Nick Offerman on why he finds solace in the outdoors

Oct 23, 2021
Originally published on October 24, 2021 10:23 am

Nick Offerman is best known as Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation, and is perhaps the most famous actor who also owns a woodshop. He's also a comedian, musician and author.

And in his new book, he's making it known that "outdoorsman" is also on his list of hobbies.

Though he lives in Los Angeles, "I feel a hell of a lot better after I walk in the woods," he tells NPR's Scott Simon on Weekend Edition.

Where the Deer and the Antelope Play: The Pastoral Observations of One Ignorant American Who Loves to Walk Outside is a reflection on some of Offerman's outdoor experiences over the last few years. They include a hiking trip in Montana's Glacier National Park with musician Jeff Tweedy and writer George Saunders, a trip to visit sheep farmer and author James Rebanks in North West England, and a road trip with Offerman's wife Megan Mullally and their dog Clover across several states.

Offerman met NPR in the great wilderness of New York City's Central Park in the shade of what he observed was a "lovely and healthy Japanese maple" tree to talk about his love of nature.


Interview Highlights

On the origins of his fondness for the outdoors

I grew up in a small town, and that was kind of my pastime was riding my bike to the creek and going fishing with my family and building a treehouse. And I guess I never got out of the habit. I need to get out and look at the creek or look at some trees to keep myself from being affected by Los Angeles traffic or too much looking at my iPhone.

Nick Offerman and NPR's Scott Simon visit New York City's Central Park. "I feel a hell of a lot better after I walk in the woods," Offerman says.
D. Parvaz / NPR

On what he finds outside

What I usually find is solace. I'm not a botanist or a birder, but I greatly enjoy all of the flora and fauna. But I'd say it's more of a state of mind that I'm looking for. I can walk on a trail almost anywhere in any climate and say, "What a delightful walk this is." And there, I've just killed three hours where I didn't spend any money or have to shoot at anything.

On what he sees in an individual tree

I don't know. For me, it's part of my, I guess my therapy and my creative process is I generally don't focus in on things. I more [often] wander. There's a bit in the book about it where George Saunders and Jeff Tweedy and I ... hit the trail and what we talk about is the very solace you're asking about.

When we step into nature is it nature's chaos that gives us a respite from the rectilinear lines of human construction? Or is it nature that has the soothing patterns of construction? Is it her organic architecture that actually is medicinal to act as a salve to the chaos of human construction? Either way, I just know that I feel a hell of a lot better after I walk in the woods.

Jeff Tweedy, Nick Offerman and George Saunders at Glacier National Park.
Jon Maret

On how diversity in nature relates to human diversity

We as humans will always be fallible. That's always my opener. And with that in mind, looking at the history of just our country, it's so easy to see the amazing things we've accomplished. And it's also so easy to see the mistakes that we've made. And so that's my hope is to open our minds to that fallibility that then allows us to own those behaviors and say, "OK, so we did this poorly. We did this bad. How can we do it better?"

Because we'll never be done evolving our civilization. Our beautiful American experiment that ostensibly on paper is designed to make an equal amount of happiness and justice for every citizen has a long way to go. So in order to achieve that, which I think is absolutely what our goal should be, we have to keep our eyes and ears and hearts open to that diversity of nature.

On how to experience nature while living in a city

A lot of our municipalities do a wonderful job of providing green spaces. That's part of what I'm trying to encourage in my readership is to find where you can be delighted. If you're in a city or a suburb, if you have trouble finding park land or public green space, the wonderful thing about nature is that it literally works every place.

And so if you have a windowsill, you can grow any number of plants. You can grow herbs or tomatoes or garlic. I encourage people — something that's really fun is to plant different deciduous trees or conifers. I'm a deciduous man myself, but you can plant trees on your windowsill and grow them until they're big enough to take them somewhere and transplant. ...

I love cities and I love nature. I would rather not be limited to one or the other. Part of the reason we have to always remain open to our fallibility is because ... Mother Nature has something else in mind for the pack of molecules that's standing here in these brown boots right now.

Danny Hensel and D. Parvaz produced and edited the audio interview. James Doubek produced for the web.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NICK OFFERMAN: Nick Offerman, the actor, comedian and professional carpenter, has written a book about his love of hiking through the wild, "Where The Deer And The Antelope Play." So we sprayed on some bear repellent and met him in the great outdoors.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

What forbidding, God-forsaken wilderness are we in now?

OFFERMAN: This, I believe, is known as Central Park on the island of Manhattan.

SIMON: Oh, my gosh. Wild and untamed?

OFFERMAN: Well, I saw a pretty healthy rat 20 minutes ago. But it...

SIMON: (Laughter). Please don't talk about our producer that way.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: You have made a point of getting out in the wilderness. I mean, a lot of people do without it.

OFFERMAN: I grew up in a small town, and that was kind of my pastime - was riding my bike to the creek and going fishing with my family and building a treehouse. And I guess I never got out of the habit. I need to get out and look at the creek or look at some trees to keep myself from being affected by Los Angeles traffic or too much looking at my iPhone.

SIMON: What do you find when you look around?

OFFERMAN: What I usually find is solace. I'm not a botanist or a birder, but I greatly enjoy all of the flora and fauna. But I'd say it's more of a state of mind that I'm looking for. I can walk on a trail almost anywhere in any climate and say, what a delightful walk this is. And there, I just killed three hours where I didn't spend any money or have to shoot at anything.

SIMON: By the way, is that a bear over there in the tree?

OFFERMAN: I don't think so. I think that's a Pennsylvanian.

SIMON: (Laughter) I got to sharpen my eye.

OFFERMAN: A very respectable...

SIMON: Yeah, yeah.

OFFERMAN: ...Set of Americans.

SIMON: And some of our best stations in the system, too, I must say.

OFFERMAN: Indeed.

SIMON: You describe going on trips in an RV.

OFFERMAN: That's right.

SIMON: It seems to me that it is harder to get a reservation at a camping ground - in your description - than it is at a Michelin-starred restaurant.

OFFERMAN: (Laughter) The two are related. And like many restaurants, they don't apparently watch a lot of NBC comedies.

SIMON: (Laughter) You had to sleep in the - in a cold, dark van.

OFFERMAN: Yeah. We didn't know how to successfully get in the first night, and we were left in the cold in the dark.

SIMON: Yeah. I want to stop here for a moment in this rustic, bucolic wilderness with a man talking on his cell phone and people looking at their cell phones.

OFFERMAN: In the shade of a lovely and healthy Japanese maple.

SIMON: Good eye.

OFFERMAN: Yeah.

SIMON: Well, we can look out over the - is that a lagoon, we'd call it or...

OFFERMAN: This is the pond officially.

SIMON: OK. All right. And those are - the green things are ducks, right?

OFFERMAN: Yeah, that's a mallard couple.

SIMON: Boy, you are, like, really good at this.

OFFERMAN: Well, I got lucky that these are in my wheelhouse.

SIMON: Right.

OFFERMAN: There's a lot of birds in this park that I would say, I'm not sure. Maybe some kind of chickadee?

SIMON: Yeah. Can I get you to look into the tree? Tell it - what should we look for? Or is the whole point not to look for something?

OFFERMAN: I don't know. For me, it's part of my - I guess, my therapy and my creative process is I generally don't focus in on things. I moreover wander. There's a bit in the book about it where George Saunders and Jeff Tweedy and I...

SIMON: These are your hiking buddies.

OFFERMAN: My hiking buddies.

SIMON: A famous musician...

OFFERMAN: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...With Wilco and then, of course, famous author.

OFFERMAN: That's right. So gather your celebrated artist friends and hit the trail. And what we talk about is the very solace you're asking about. Is it - when we step into nature, is it nature's chaos that gives us a respite from the rectilinear lines of human construction? Or is it nature that has the soothing patterns of construction? Is it her organic architecture that actually is medicinal to act as a salve to the chaos of human construction? Either way, I just know that I feel a hell of a lot better after I walk in the woods.

SIMON: Yeah. You end this book with really a very eloquent appeal, where, essentially, you say the diversity we see in nature reminds us that we need a real, living, vibrant multiplicity of all things in our lives. I wonder if I can get you to talk about that.

OFFERMAN: We as humans will always be fallible. That's always my opener.

SIMON: Yeah.

OFFERMAN: And with that in mind, looking at the history of just our country, it's so easy to see the amazing things we've accomplished. And it's also so easy to see the mistakes that we've made. And so that's my hope - is to open our minds to that fallibility that then allows us to own those behaviors and say, OK, so we did this poorly. We did this bad. How can we do it better? Because we'll never be done evolving our civilization. Our beautiful American experiment that, ostensibly on paper, is designed to make an equal amount of happiness and justice for every citizen has a long way to go. So in order to achieve that - which I think is absolutely what our goal should be - we have to keep our eyes and ears and hearts open to that diversity of nature.

SIMON: We're living in a world where a lot of people find it hard to get into not just the wilderness, even public parks. Anything to be done about that?

OFFERMAN: A lot of our municipalities do a wonderful job of providing green spaces. That's part of what I'm trying to encourage in my readership - is to find where you can be delighted. If you're in a city or a suburb, if you have trouble finding parkland or public green space, the wonderful thing about nature is that it literally works every place. And so if you have a windowsill, you can grow any number of plants. You can grow herbs or tomatoes or garlic. I encourage people - something that's really fun is to plant different deciduous trees or conifers. I'm a deciduous man myself. But you can plant trees on your windowsill and grow them until they're big enough to take them somewhere and transplant.

SIMON: You're kidding me.

OFFERMAN: No.

SIMON: On your windowsill?

OFFERMAN: Yeah, this is some hard biology I'm bringing to the show.

SIMON: Wow. Well, something just occurred to me as we're standing here, I'm afraid.

OFFERMAN: (Laughter).

SIMON: I love cities, OK?

OFFERMAN: Sure.

SIMON: I'm really a Chicagoan. I love great cities.

OFFERMAN: They're amazing.

SIMON: And you look at a great city, and you think about what endures, what decays, what survives. To be surrounded by nature, to behold that is to be reminded of the cycle of - forgive me - life and death.

OFFERMAN: Absolutely. And it's something I touch on in my book. You know, I love cities, and I love nature. I would rather not be limited to one or the other. Part of the reason we have to always remain open to our fallibility is because of what you said. You know, Mother Nature has something else in mind for the pack of molecules that's standing here in these brown boots right now.

SIMON: Well, thank you for your time.

OFFERMAN: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLES ATLAS'S "THE SNOW BEFORE US")

SIMON: Nick Offerman - his new book, "Where the Deer And The Antelope Play."

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLES ATLAS'S "THE SNOW BEFORE US") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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