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'Farewell, My Subaru' author goes green

Times Book Editor

With Earth Day coming up Tuesday, many of us are thinking about the impact we have on the planet. While we might be replacing our incandescent light bulbs and vowing to take those reusable totes every time we go shopping, Doug Fine has been going a little further.

Right off the grid, in fact, to a New Mexico ranch powered by solar panels and a vehicle that runs on leftover cooking oil from Chinese restaurants.

I think I'm eating locally if I choose Florida tangerines over California's at the supermarket. Fine's version is to set up an Israeli-designed desert irrigation system and plant his own chard and peas — and spend half his waking hours persuading his goats and chickens not to eat them.

The rest of the time, he's trying to persuade a coyote he dubs Dick Cheney (because it strikes from an undisclosed location) not to eat the goats and chickens.

Fine's new book, Farewell, My Subaru, is an antic and engaging account of one man's giant step toward a smaller carbon footprint.

A regular contributor to NPR, Fine has written for the Washington Post, Wired, Salon and Outside. Reporting has taken him to remote locations and war zones in Tajikistan, Rwanda and Laos. His first book, Not Really an Alaskan Mountain Man, was about his time in rural Alaska, which included encounters with angry moose and polar bears.

Fine, raised in New York suburbs "on concrete and Domino's pizzas," decided a few years ago "to see if I could get oil out of my life and still live like an American."

No monkish scold, he writes, "I like my Netflix, wireless e-mail, and booming subwoofers. In fact, I didn't want to live without them. I just wanted to power them by the sun."

Farewell, My Subaru details his efforts. The title refers to the petroleum-powered car he gives up in favor of a Ridiculously Oversized American Truck — ROAT for short — because the ROAT can more easily be converted to run on recycled vegetable oil, which he finagles from Chinese restaurants in Silver City. (He ends up with chronic munchies from the kung pao chicken-scented exhaust.)

Silver City is the nearest town to his property, which Fine names the Funky Butte Ranch. The ranch is fairly remote, although maybe not for long: "Despite our distance from Santa Fe and Taos, we already had enough Californicators seeking dream houses to ensure that mine is the first county in history where a majority of the population are Realtors."

Looking for a way to feed his most serious addiction — ice cream — he shops on Craigslist for goats. Soon he is the doting owner of a pair of tiny, irresistible kids he names Natalie and Melissa (as in Merchant and Etheridge).

Their first night home, Fine puts them in their new corral and goes to bed. The coyotes begin to howl, no doubt celebrating the buffet. He totes his sleeping bag out to the corral, and "out came my shotgun. It was strange and weighty in my hands, which made me feel like Elmer Fudd."

The Pan Sisters, as Fine calls them, survive and prove to be companionable, smart and obsessed with eating his rose bushes. His other companions include the human neighbors, who range from old-school ranchers with lots of wise advice to crunchy green types who, as Fine puts it, think Bob Marley was a little too much of a teetotaler.

Fine would probably find it much tougher to pass up a wisecrack than give up fossil fuels, but he has a serious point to make: Every choice we make counts.

Even though he goes to much greater extremes than most of us might in pursuit of living green, Fine readily admits he's far from perfect. Changing the way we live is not a single decision but a learning process, and Farewell, My Subaru makes clear that process can be a challenge — and a hoot.

Colette Bancroft can be reached at (727) 893-8435 or

Farewell, My Subaru: An Epic Adventure in Local Living • By Doug Fine • Villard, 210 pages, $24 • On the Web:

'Farewell, My Subaru' author goes green 04/18/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 22, 2008 9:04am]
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