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Nick Offerman will discuss his new book with Jeff Tweedy and George Saunders on Wednesday

Nick Offerman will discuss his new book with Jeff Tweedy and George Saunders on Wednesday

Nick Offerman is most commonly known for his role as Ron Swanson on the TV series Parks and Recreation, but he has also developed a reputation as songwriter. Offermans fifth book, Where the Deer and the Antelope Play: The Pastoral Observations of One Ignorant American Who Loves to Walk Outside (Dutton). Offerman goes hiking in Glacier National Park with Wilco singer/guitarist Jeff Tweedy and writer George Saunders in the first, he visits farmer friend James Rebanks and in third, Offermann and his wife, the actor Megan Mullally, go road-tripping in an Airstream trailer. Along the way, Offerman riffs on the importance of being outside and the lessons you can only learn when nature is your teacher (with an aid from poet Wendell Berry). Offerman will have a conversation with Tweedy and Saunders at 8 p.m. In a virtual event hosted by Brookline Booksmith, we'll be discussing the latest developments in the industry on Thursday.

Did you know you were going to write about these three journeys hiking with Jeff Tweedy and George Saunders, visiting the Rebanks farm in England, and embarking on an Airstream tour with your wife before you went on them?

No, I didnt. I just had the general idea of the book it was born out of my love of Wendell Berry's writings and other agrarian and conservationist thought. When I learned that I could tour as a humorist and then write books, and that my readers were gaining in confidence, the question always remained: What do I want to pass along to my students? So, I had the impression that Ive been awakened to our relationship, our broken relationship with Mother Nature. Hope to get a few other people to pull their heads out of their video games and look at the Sycamore leaves in the yard.

A lot of people know you first as an actor. Which bug bit you first: acting or writing?

I started reading first. In the 70s and 80s, I grew up in a cultural vacuum: small-town Illinois in the '70ies and 80ies. I had no channel of culture other than the three television stations and popular radio. In the mid-1980s, my cousin and I desperately wanted to be breakdancers. We had to stay up until late on Saturday night to listen to a radio station from Chicago and get early hip-hop, Grandmaster Flash, and other stuff. My aunt, who was a librarian, gave me Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Madeleine LEngle and the like, and that was definitely the source of my imagination and my sense of creativity and storytelling. When I went to college and was trying to figure out the path of my adult life, I realized that what I want to do is take those funny faces Id been practicing in the classroom and get people to pay me to make them on stage. And so thats always been whatd been my thing. And getting to write books has been a wonderful surprise.

Ron Swanson is a well-known character, with dozens of your hobbies, from woodworking to camping. How much did the shows creators take from your own life to create him?

When they were researching the idea for the show, they met a local official in Los Angeles, whose mission was to bring down the government from within. That was the basis of the character. And when I auditioned to play Ron, thats exactly what he was talking about: capitalism versus the government. Mike Schur and I agreed that Ron would have a big mustache. And, as great comedy writers do, they looked at the toolbox that I brought to the job. If youre lucky enough to develop a character over 125 episodes, skilled writers will then utilize those tools in such oblivion that the audience will assume it was your idea all along.

Its interesting because you dont share his views. Your admiration for some of the outcomes of FDRs New Deal, such as the WPA and the CCC, is evident in the book. Have your own politics been shaped by your reading about agrarian ethics and the natural world?

When I step back and try to look through my woodworkers goggles, I see corporate finance as a huge source of power as being largely hampered. Ive read a lot of Theodore Roosevelts writings, and he [essentially] said that if we let corporations put their money into politics, were in for rip-off. I have a refrain in the book where I vaguely describe the ways were going south in terms of our relationship with nature, and the reason for this every time is money. When I look at our two-party system, both sides are ill-equipped, with flaws that are fuelled by that. I often refer to Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, [who] are the two most vocal politicians, saying that all of these politicians are on the lookout for corporations. How can we reasonably expect them to make the right decision in regards to fossil fuels, when theyre all paid by fossil energy firms? I think thats worth examining, folks.

Whats the solution?

I think that, just like with many, many other things that have seemed impossible in our lifetimes same-sex marriage, amazing advancements for rights for people of color and women and LGBTQ people, the legalization of marijuana - our treatment of our natural resources is heading this way as well. I think in the same way, as we now say, Can you believe we used to smoke in restaurants? Once we accept that the oil companies will take over our relationship with Mother Nature, well one day say, Can you believe everyone had an SUV?

What does going outside into nature do for you, and why should we all do it more often?

Two nights ago, I finished a long day of filming and was exhausted. I normally run four to five miles a day, but I thought, Maybe Ill just put my feet up. I said, No, you know what? I am aware of how this works. I took off my shoes and went out running, and within a minute my body felt so good to be outside. Theres a certain pace, sanity in getting out into the elements. It doesn't require distractions. I climbed up the hill and the most beautiful blazing sunset in a cloudy sky almost brought me to tears. And I thought Ive had the most amazing part of my day by climbing this hill. Wendell Berry and Rebecca Solnit have spoken very clearly about the value of walking and the pace of moving; when we accelerate, which capitalism and consumerism tells us we should do, we miss out on everything that nature offers us because were trying to get to the mall to purchase the latest pair of Air Jordans. If you slow down and go for a walk, you may find you dont need to buy anything.

Register for this online event at Tickets cost $28 and include a copy of the book to be picked up at the store; if you pay $37, the cost will be reduced.

Interview has been edited and condensed.

Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at

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