Going green and having a few laughs
“Farewell, My Subaru: An Epic Adventure in Local Living,” by Doug Fine. Villard Books, 2008. 210 pp., $24 in hardback.
By Steve Huffman
I want to have a beer with Doug Fine.
Better still, I want to spend a weekend with him and his goats ó Natalie and Melissa ó at the Funky Butte Ranch and get a few lessons on how to make my life more carbon-neutral.
I want to kick back with the three of them and watch a New Mexico sunset while Natalie and Melissa take turns trying to eat our hats.
Or Fine’s beloved roses.
Fine is the author of “Farewell, My Subaru,” a story about a year spent on a remote New Mexico ranch he purchased. There, Fine sets out to grow his own food, power his house from sunlight and drive his ROAT (“Ridiculously Oversized American Truck”) on leftover restaurant grease.
The book is a hoot. From beginning to end.
Fine ó a contributor to National Public Radio ó is a wonderful writer, the kind of guy able to weave a first-person narrative while taking plenty of potshots at himself and just about everyone else he encounters.
Early on, he preaches conservation while admitting to his own flaws.
“I realized I was hopelessly dependent not just on co-op veggies,” he writes, “but on Silver City’s one box store: a Super Wal-Mart the size of a small state. I didn’t like to think about it, but the LOVEsubee’s (Fine’s name for his Subaru) hatch was filled with one of those giant Val-U pyramids of paper towels that looked as though the trees had simply been converted from living, bark-covered plants to dioxin-bleached rolls of about the same girth and height.”
The book is sprinkled (well, grayed-over, actually) with ecological tidbits.
– “A product imported from Shanghai travels 6,438 miles to get to a market in Los Angeles.”
– “There were 7.2 billion visits made to Wal-Mart in 2006. Earth’s population is 6.5 billion.”
– “Toyota’s 2005 profits were $2.5 billion in North America.”
But fear not, this isn’t the kind of book that’s going to drag you down in minutiae.
Far from it.
“Farewell” is a quick read and left me ó literally ó laughing out loud. More than once, and that’s something that’s hard to do.
Fine, 36, is something of a sissified macho man, committing to becoming self-sufficient while admitting to having never raised so much as a bean.
Thus, he’s surprised at the reaction he gets from members of the opposite sex when he dumps his Subaru and purchases a six-year-old mammoth Dodge truck (the “ROAT”) that he immediately converts to operate from used deep-fryer vegetable oil.”The type masculinity I project had now and forever changed,” he writes. “Women with names like Darla were eyeing my ride like it was a human body part. They winked. Introduced themselves with tattooed waves. Once or twice tongues emerged.”
The New Mexico landscape in which Fine resides is comprised of an interesting mix. Among humans, that mix includes everything from rednecks to mystics, and a dying friend who seems to have finally realized what it is about life that’s important.
When it comes to wildlife, Fine shares his surroundings with rattlesnakes and chickens. And lots of coyotes.
Fine’s goats came from a posting on Craigslist. The creatures quickly become his best friends. He grants Natalie and Melissa human-like characteristics.
“When I was inside the ranch house violating their social boundaries by eating a meal without them, they tried to get in with increasingly powerful horns applied to my sliding glass window,” Fine writes.
“They actually knocked.”
Through it all, Fine comes across as a genuinely decent guy trying hard to reduce his carbon footprint.
If you’re like me and wouldn’t know your carbon footprint from Bigfoot’s footprint, fear not. You’ll enjoy this writing all the same.
Maybe we can even carpool ó Fine would surely approve of our attempt to become more environmentally friendly by sharing a ride ó to the Funky Butte Ranch for a brew.
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