Farewell, My Subaru: An Epic Adventure in Local Living

Farewell, My Subaru: An Epic Adventure in Local Living

by Doug Fine


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812977899
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/24/2009
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 592,833
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

DOUG FINE, a contributor to NPR and Public Radio International, has reported from remote perches in Burma, Rwanda, Laos, Guatemala, and Tajikistan. He is the author of Not Really an Alaskan Mountain Man, and lives in southern New Mexico.

Read an Excerpt

Farewell, My Subaru An Epic Adventure in Local Living

By Doug Fine Villard Copyright © 2008 Doug Fine
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781400066445




I want to put a ding in the universe.

—Steve Jobs




As I watched my Subaru Legacy slide backward toward my new ranch’s studio outbuilding, the thought crossed my mind that if it kept going— and I didn’t see why it wouldn’t—at least I would be using less gasoline. A few days after I moved into the sprawling, crumbling, forty-one acre New Mexico spread that I had named the Funky Butte Ranch (it had a funky limestone butte on its east side where two great horned owls with an active love life nested), I neglected to firmly apply that last click to the parking brake on my aged fossil fuel–powered hatchback, the LOVEsubee.

This was a good thing. Really. The imminent demise of my ride, I rationalized, would help me with one of my four big goals for the next year, which were:

1. Use a lot less oil

2. Power my life by renewable energy

3. Eat as locally as possible

4. Don’t starve, electrocute myself, get eaten by the local mountain lions, get shot by my UN-fearing neighbors, or otherwise die in a way that would cause embarrassment ifthe obituary writer did his or her research

Epiphany in the desert Southwest is not subtle. Almost nothing in this stark, gorgeous ecosystem is. I moved several thousand miles from my place of birth in order to kick fossil fuels and live locally. Three days later, MY CAR WAS LITERALLY RUNNING AWAY FROM ME. This is how lessons are taught in a place where even sitting down means a possible impaling. I figured I would forge success from astonishing, seemingly irrevocable defeat, you know, like Al Gore.

I didn’t need the message hammered home so literally. The time was absolutely right for me personally to embark on this adventure in living green—other than having no electrical, plumbing, building, engine mechanical, horticultural, or animal husbandry skills at all, that is. After growing up on Dominoes Pizza in the New York suburbs, at age thirty-six I wanted to see if a regular guy who enjoyed his comforts could maintain them with a reduced-oil footprint. In concrete terms, this meant raising animals and crops for my food, figuring out some way besides unleaded to get anywhere, and making bank account–draining investments in solar power.

I’d lived and worked in extreme conditions on five continents since the beginning of my career as a journalist fifteen years ago, but time and again, after shivering in Alaska and dodging bullets in Tajikistan, I reaffirmed what I already knew: 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. If my ear- melting music could go solar, and still make my UN-fearing neighbors complain about bass lines interrupting their nightmares of Hillary Clinton, I’d consider this experiment a success. If I had reliable Internet and could download movies into my green world to boot, the feeling would be closer to “Eureka!” Especially if I was eating munchies I’d grown, raised, or at least bought locally.

Because as I saw things, global climate change, pollution, world wars, and human rights aside, the Oil Age has had a great run: fossil fuels turned the United States, for example, from a nation of farmers into the Jetsons. I largely welcome this. I know I sure dig my laptop. When else in history could I have listened to Malian drumming or Beatles outtakes (or some DJ mixing the two) all within three clicks? When else could I be that DJ? This really is the best time ever to be alive, if you’re fortunate enough to live in the West and not be in the armed forces. In short, I wanted to prove that green Digital Age living was possible, and I was psyched to get cracking.

Coincidentally, society seemed to be ready, too, or at least to have transformed from considering such an experiment radically subversive to simply radically unfeasible. By 2005, when I moved to New Mexico, even a marginally coherent man deemed president of the United States was struggling to pronounce “biofuels” at the State of the Union Address. Citigroup, the world’s largest company, announced in 2007 that it was investing $50 billion in green projects. Companies were marketing everything from “sustainable” mascara to green SUVs. What was next? Environmentally friendly gunpowder? Organic Raid roach spray? Nothing would surprise me at this point.

From Zambian government officials (who refused genetically modified organism seeds during a recent famine) to Russian spies (who continued to kill one another over their boss’s natural gas policy), it just felt like a critical mass had recognized that the fossil fuel– powered civilization that got us to this point was in big trouble. Maybe it has fifty years, maybe one hundred left in its life cycle. In addition to my personal reasons, to my “environmentally sensitive while comfortable” motivations, I saw adaptation as a matter of survival.

I didn’t know if the current green rage was just another trend—a fad until oil prices came down a little. But what if $2.29 gas prices weren’t coming back? What if $3.29 oil prices weren’t coming back? What started out as a cute whim for me quickly became a much more personal journey.

Whether I needed the lesson or not, the LOVEsubee was gathering a head of steam. I recall the instant I discovered that I had a parking brake issue on my hands. Perhaps three quarters of a second earlier, halfway between my car and house, I caught the hint of something moving in my peripheral vision. I had just returned from what would become my weekly, monumental supply run to the town of Silver City, twenty-three miles away. In my possession were five store-bought, organic, box-ripened tomatoes, “grown” eight hundred miles away in California and shipped to the crunchy Silver City co-op via roughly a hundred twenty gallons of fossil fuels.

Life had been idyllic for a brief moment that July afternoon. Two green Rufous hummingbirds ignored FAA altitude requirements around my head, and I had an unfamiliar proprietary sense about them and everything on the ranch. I was going to be here for a while, and there was evidence everywhere. For instance, I had already bought an actual non–thrift store bed. An expensive, four-figure one, following an extensive test in the furniture showroom that nearly got me evicted from the store. For a thousand bucks, I thought the mattress should hold up to every kind of rigor.

The Funky Butte Ranch being the first property I had ever owned, I was kind of sauntering through the postclosing honeymoon phase in a haze of bliss, excessive capital outflow, and plans. In fact, I don’t know why they call that nightmare at the title company a “closing.” It should be called an “opening.”

An opening to new projects, loves, entire worldviews. I found I was already becoming much more of a fiscal conservative, now that I owed property taxes for the first time. Small government suddenly seemed the way to go.

Alone on my new property, my mind was also wandering. Wandering in the way a healthy guy’s mind wanders when he’s got time to think—and not just because of all the mattress testing. I was freshly single again, after a long and spiritually unsatisfying relationship. My body was still adjusting. In my first few days at the Funky Butte Ranch, in fact, I kept censoring conversations between my pituitary and my cerebrum that went along these lines:

pituitary: Why don’t we take a little break from repairing the goat pen to find out if the ol’ Sweetheart wants to take a little break from whatever she’s doing?

cerebrum: The ol’ ex-Sweetheart isn’t in our life anymore. She lives in a McMansion two hundred fifty miles away.

pituitary: Fine. I’m sure you can provide a substitute.

cerebrum: Look, we can’t bring home the goats and get started on this local living project if we don’t secure the goat pen from predators. Did you not see the mountain lion teeth marks on that deer carcass in the creek bed? There are other things in life besides sex.

pituitary: You think so? Try and think about anything else while you’re working on that cow pen.

cerebrum: Goat pen.

pituitary: Whatever.

But there was no time for daydreaming. I turned my head and there it was, my car of twelve years (and crash pad from time to time), gliding furiously in reverse, and, it should be pointed out, not on fossil fuels, across my irises and down the hill toward the beautiful stone building I planned to use as a writing and dance studio. It all happened so fast. Before I even had time to say “Come back, LOVEsubee!” a one-hundred-year-old live oak, like a last defender on a long kickoff run-back, knocked the vehicle off its trajectory. It miraculously came to rest against a ten-foot yucca, a variety featuring spears that would suffice for medieval combat.

“Firmly apply the parking brake” is the message I was getting as I moronically waved my vine of nonlocal tomatoes at the LOVEsubee. “To your unsustainable life. To petroleum in your very food and coal in your hot water. To relationships based on lust. The whole thing.”

As a person raised on the East Coast of the United States, I bring a healthy skepticism to anything that sounds too Whoo Whoo (and New Mexico is perhaps the World Capital of Whoo Whoo gurus, diets, left- and right-wing conspiracies, and alien sightings). But I couldn’t even park my car at my new ranch without the world screaming “Less Oil. More Heart.”


Excerpted from Farewell, My Subaru by Doug Fine Copyright © 2008 by Doug Fine. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Farewell, My Subaru: An Epic Adventure in Local Living 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Farewell, My Subaru: An Epic Adventure in Local Living, By Doug Fine, is a comical yet informative novel that captures the importance of green living while still telling the story of Fine’s life transformation. In this novel Fine tries to lessen his carbon footprint, while still attempting to have all the American comforts. He moves to a ranch in New Mexico where he promises to himself, that he will grow his own food, use solar light as electricity and fuel his car off of used restaurant oils. Fine shows how difficult it really is to make your ice cream and only eat locally grown organic foods. As he raises goats and grows his own food, he realizes that it isn't as easy as it is cracked up to be. Fine made many discoveries and the largest one was that it is not a one man job. In this novel Fine did not once say that he could not do something, as he found many innovative and inventive ways to complete seemingly impossible tasks. He did not make it seem easy or what everyone should do tomorrow, but he wrote an honest reflection of his trials, tribulations, and struggles, while attempting to create a new way of life. By injecting comedic relief to all of his stressful, dangerous, and some inconceivable decisions, Fine allowed the reader to learn, laugh, and just be entertained by his nonsensical happenings. What was most of all impressive, was that he could write a novel such as this, while continuing to breed information and lessons learned ,the easy and hard way. This novel also showed that a community is not only helpful in a situation as such, but it is vital to the success of everyone in that committee. This puts the rest of the world into perspective , not only in an eco-friendly way, but also looking at others and how they react and act in the world.
Hal_Yard More than 1 year ago
I didn't honestly expect much out of this book. I found it by searching for e-books on "solar" (with little success). I was pleasantly surprised by the way that Fine interwove facts, story, characters, and his continually building knowledge of green living. Compared to most environmental books I've read in the past ten years, I didn't have a "were f'd" feeling after reading it. Rather, it inspired me to green up my already green life, which isn't an easy task. Kudos to Mr. Fine for such a great story and the resultant inspiration!
Seajack on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Another in the "eco-genre" of Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle", etc. Author re-locates to southern New Mexico to try his hand at goat ranching for self-sufficiency; lengthy secition on his obtaining and converting a vehicle to run on leftover kitchen grease, replacing the Suburu in which he arrived. I could see others finding it "funny", but I found it occasionally amusing. I don't regret having read it, but can't truly recommend it either: neutral rating (really 2.5 stars).
sassafras on LibraryThing 5 months ago
A funny, light-hearted take on the serious business of going green. A former globe-trotting journalist now turns his attention to local living. Fine's steep learning curve and comical blunders remind us that anyone can do this. It's not in the big steps, so much as the small choices and decisions we each make everyday.
skokie on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I found this author's writing style to be very comical, and his desire to live green to be more than an adventure for a book. Raising his own goats, converting a big diesel truck to run on vegetable oil, putting up solar panels in a windstorm, etc. are some of the highlights of this book. It is a quick read and has random environmental facts throughout the book.
ptero27 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Doug Fine's thoughts and recollections on his first year of sustainable and eco-friendly living this book is an accessible, funny, sensible foray into environmentally thoughtful living and environmentalism recommended for everyone. Despite your political affiliations, views on gun control, or religion (unless you bathe in oil and club baby seals before your breakfast of genetically modified food pellets) you will find Fine's treatise on the simple and immensely rewarding joys of sustainable living, growing your own food and connecting to the earth around you a tempting and rational call to another way of life.Not only charming, hilarious and heart-winning, it is peppered with factoids and garnished with mouth watering recipes Fine prepared with his own cultivated and carefully tended fruits of labor. His dedication to his goals and aspirations is inspiring to say the least. I mean, I love ice cream. I love it enough to make it myself, but I don't know if I could go so far as to raise, vaccinate and shepherd goats for over a year in order to make it. And yet, when Fine describes it, it doesn't only seem possible, but enviable.Fine weathers floods, droughts, hail, coyotes, loneliness, bureaucratic paperwork, clogged fuel lines, a runaway car, and all other unimaginable challenges with humor, grace and an indomitable spirit that keeps you cheering him on! While certainly an environmentalist, Fine is not strictly a vegetarian, and even hunts which might put off some hard core Greenies, but is forgivable given his unique attempt at the activity.
bragan on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Former New York suburbanite Doug Fine recounts the triumphs and tribulations that ensue when he moves to a ranch in New Mexico in an attempt to reduce his environmental footprint as much as possible, while not entirely giving up such modern luxuries as iPods and ice cream. Which may not be the world's most compelling personal adventure, but it's interesting enough and often very amusing. Fine is serious and enthusiastic about green living without coming across as a zealot, and his style is more self-deprecating than self-righteous. (Although his, "Oh, gosh, I'm a crunchy liberal partly surrounded by people who voted for Bush!"-type jokes sometimes feel a little self-consciously awkward.) It's an entertaining read for those who simply enjoy anecdotes about, say, a guy running out of his house naked in a (largely futile) attempt to chase off a coyote, but I imagine it's likely to be particularly appealing and perhaps even useful to those contemplating adopting this sort of lifestyle themselves, as Fine is extremely candid about the difficulties and compromises involved, as well as the rewards. Although he also makes me wonder how the heck anybody manages to afford the initial outlay.My one real complaint is that the little enviro-fact boxes scattered randomly throughout the text are annoyingly distracting. I think I'll choose to believe those were insisted on by the editor.
amanderson on LibraryThing 5 months ago
A series of entertaining vignettes about the journalist author's experiences moving to New Mexico and trying to live sustainably, with goats, a diesel truck running on fryer biofuel, and installing solar panels. Not quite entertaining enough or informative enough to be a 4-star book though.
glade1 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
As entertainment, this book is highly enjoyable. As a call to action, it is less effective. I very much liked Fine's writing style and his accounts of the misadventures he experienced when moving to New Mexico and trying to go "off the grid." My favorite parts were the ones about the animals: the goats, the chickens, the coyote, the rattlesnake. Fine is a strange combination of practicality and what he terms the "whoo-whoo," New Agey, meditating, organic type. He knows how to laugh at himself and life.

Unfortunately, if I were reading this as an inspiration to go green, I would be put off. Fine had the advantages of an apparently very healthy bank account and a career that allows him to work from wherever he may be. He admitted to spending something like $40,000 on the solar panels for his home, after having already purchased the ranch. Then he bought a huge truck and had it converted to run on vegetable oil. Then he made tanks to heat his water. Not to mention the cost of housing and keeping livestock that would not earn their keep for at least a year, if not more. I'm sure he will gain back all those costs in savings eventually, but it's an imposing amount of outlay at the get-go. And the labor involved in caring for the animals, gardening, traveling over flooded rivers, etc., is a bit overwhelming. So, it's a fun story but it doesn't make me want to dash out and disconnect from the power company!
melissavenable on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This is not a how-to book but a memoir of one modern man's attempt (and success) at living a more environmentally conscious life. He learns how to manage a ranch almost completely from scratch, raising goats and chickens, establishing a garden, installing solar power...he also details the conversion of a diesel truck (they have to be diesel) to run off of waste oil from restaurants. It's interesting and funny and you find yourself really pulling for the guy and wondering if you could do it, too. (My sister and I have had several half-serious conversations about raising goats!) While this is a fun read, the author's personal political views, opinions, and causes come through. You can tell he tries to reign it in during most of the telling of his story, but it is there. Overall, the story draws attention to some of the questions we all face everyday regarding our choices in food, transportation, and housing. I haven't looked at a rotisserie chicken the same way since.
genejo1 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Great Book! Very funny and informative.
ham_shoes on LibraryThing 5 months ago
A quick and very easy read. The story is that of a plugged-in young man of the city casting off the chemical pollutants of normal American life. The setting is the desert of New Mexico, so I kept wanting the book to be an Ed Abbey story, ruddy and windswept. But Doug Fine seems a man more like myself; urban, tame. He reveals to the reader influences in his life which are more refined than the ranch he has made his home. Still, the book is as much about wholeheartedly tackling a lifestyle much dreamed-of by guys like me as it is a personality sketch of the author, and in that respect is encouraging to anyone speculating about making some radical changes in their patterns of consumption.
MrsTalksTooMuch on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I enjoyed the author's humorous outlook. Little comments that would sneak up and make me laugh out loud are what makes this worth the read. For example, speaking about going hunting and firing a rifle for the first time: "Still I overcame a strong Darwinian hesitancy, contorted myself into a formal firing position called, appropriately enough, Modified Jackass, and pulled the trigger. When I came to, I felt conflicting emotions."Other parts I found harder to connect with. Like being able to buy a house and big ol' truck to convert and have the free time to take care of goats and a garden all day, not many of us are in the financial position to do that.I also found his recipes didn't contain much that was actually "local" or "sustainable". But I definitely give him a gold star for the effort and for the laughs.
Kristina_Osborne14 More than 1 year ago
Doug Fine’s book, Farewell, My Subaru, is a must read. Doug Fine goes on a journey to Mexico to become the most eco-friendly person he can be. Fine purchases a forty-one acre piece of land that he names, The Funky Butte Ranch. He hopes to do four things within the next year on this piece of land: 1. Use a lot less oil, 2. Power his life by using renewable energy, 3. Eat as locally as possible, and 4. Don’t die. Helping him along the way, he got rid of his Subaru and got a truck. Although the truck sounds worse than a car when trying to go eco-friendly, he changed his diesel sucking ride for a veggie rolling mobile. Along Doug’s journey, he learns about different ways to use solar power, grow food, and maintain a stable farm. Along with some extra things, he got chickens, goats, and an Australian Cattle dog. Although Doug’s life may sound like a piece of cake, he explains the number of struggles he had while going through this becoming green process. Some struggles that he faced were, his truck not starting, where to find vegetable oil, his solar sources not working properly, and finding ways to grow food without all the additive chemicals that other farmers use. Overall, Doug had been challenged, but didn’t give up. I highly recommend this book to anyone. It allowed me to look at a different way of living, and be inspired. Never would I have learned that solar panels are mandatory on all buildings in Spain, that renewable sources will supply nearly half the world’s energy by 2050, or that solar ovens can heat up to four hundred degrees. After going solar on Doug Fine’s ranch, he used 86 kilowatts of grid energy in June 2007. The average American house uses 888 kilowatt hours per month. If Doug can do it, I can do it.
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