Nick Offerman on Why You Should Get Outside More and Embrace Mother Nature’s Gifts

The Parks and Recreation star offers cheeky tips for bartering with the ultimate gift-giver: Mother Nature

Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.

Let’s talk about gifts, and I don’t mean Christmas. Santa Claus, Schmanta Claus. Tooth Fairy? Easter Bunny? I scoff. Brrroiyt! That’s the sound of me lightly trumpeting an insouciant nether-toot in their general direction, because they are rank amateurs. You want the gifts that keep on giving, year-round? Straight-up largesse? Talk to Mother Nature. Hers is the bag that holds the bounty to be harvested from the circle of life itself, every day of the year!

When you can unplug from the modern, consumerist distraction channels to be found pretty much anywhere “on the grid” 24/7 and immerse yourself in the quietude of a hike, spelunk, dive or paddle, the riches that become available to you are quite tasty, indeed.

Let’s take the Great Lakes for starters. You can hike through unlimited acres of near-virgin conifer forest, lousy with squirrels, raccoons, you name it. Skunks. Cute as hell. You emerge along the shores of Lake Superior, where you’re able to employ your large, strong hands in the harvesting of willow fronds, enough for a good-sized creel, or fish basket. Please note that these fronds cost zero dollars.

When gathering your willow, select at least three contrasting ­“autumn” colors so your basket wouldn’t feel out of place on the cover of Sunset magazine. Take your time and weave the hell out of that creel, adding the final flourish of a hand-tooled leather strap to serve as a hasp. Next, take that creel to the nearest big town and find a local butcher or meat counter at a grocery and cannily barter your weaving project for literal pounds of smoked bacon. Boom. Mother Nature just paid you. With the gift of pork.

"Head around to the back door and brandish your haul like it's contraband, because in Texas it is."

Or this. Head down to Texas Hill Country during the rainy season and go entirely bonkers harvesting morel, chanterelle and chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms. These savory treats are highly prized, but remember that you are technically not allowed to forage for fungi on public or private land unless you have permission. Some national parks and preserves allow each citizen to collect an amount for personal use (less than a gallon), but beware: If they catch you selling your treasures, you will find yourself in deep ordure (an excellent place to grow mushrooms, by the way). You can bypass this pitfall by purchasing a $50 commercial permit—if you’re a sucker, that is. But guess who has a better idea? That’s right. Me.

When your chosen area has received an inch or two of steady rain over a few days, head into the live oaks to spot the brightly fruiting mushrooms. To be sure you avoid any poisonous varieties, try reading a book for once. When you have amassed a few dry gallons of alien-looking shrooms, then you are ­sittin’ pretty, because these woodland treats are absolute delicacies to idiots who like to eat dirty mold and fungus. Head into town and find some. These easy marks are known to congregate at embarrassingly bougie eateries. These restaurants are simple to find because they refer to themselves as “eateries.” I usually see if I can sniff out the kind of place that serves snails, pâté or any dish topped with “coriander fish foam.”

Head around to the back door and brandish your haul like it’s contraband, because in Texas it is. These “foodies,” as they proudly refer to themselves, will lose their feeble minds at the merest prospect of adding your “forage” to their stews, and here’s the good part: For your troubles you can get them to swap you (thus bypassing the illegal “selling”) four young Berkshire hogs, or, in a pinch, you may accept Chester Whites, which you then drive or haul to your homestead. Allow them to root out their own supply of acorns and wild grubs, and they will fatten into dozens of savory, delicious meals.

Illustration of a waiter revealing a dishFrank Stockton for Reader's Digest

My final example involves another of nature’s wonderful gifts: that of time spent with my family. It’s almost perfectly natural, except that my cousin Margie likes to wear synthetic fabrics (which are made from crude oil—this is not the only way in which she’s a nincompoop). We love nothing more than to go fishing together in Minnesota every summer, and catch up to our legal limit in all the available fish species: in ascending order of size, perch, bluegill, crappie, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, walleye, northern pike, muskie.

We do catch and release—we catch the fish and then release them into the fish basket. I actually don’t know the legal limits; I just said that in case any lawyers read this. We basically fill up Grandpa Mike’s two big coolers with as many frozen specimens of the above species as we can fit and take them into Motley, to Morey’s Seafood Markets. Out back we meet this lady named Eloise who runs a BBQ truck, and she trades us four racks of pork ribs per cooler, which is a pretty astonishingly good deal, if you have tasted her ribs.

These are but a few of the many ways that you, utilizing your human ingenuity, can glean the most precious gifts that Mother Nature can offer, which are also known as pork products. Next time somebody brings up the topic of exchanging presents, you have been afforded this priceless life hack with which to vanquish any and all friends, relatives and acquaintances. And so, on behalf of myself and everyone here at the ’gest, allow me to say “You’re welcome.”

Editor’s note: Nick Offerman’s latest book, Where the Deer and the Antelope Play, is available now. He is also the audiobook narrator of The Need to Be Whole by Wendell Berry.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Nick Offerman
Nick Offerman is a woodworker and an actor best known for playing Ron Swanson on NBC's Parks and Recreation.