Biodiesel, Goats and Sex

A New Yorker tells a humorous tale about moving West and trying to live sustainably

Reading Farewell, My Subaru, I kept muttering to myself, "Where the hell did he get the money?"

I mean, this Doug Fine guy is a journalist, for crying out loud (not a high-paying job--believe me). Yet somehow, he goes out and acquires 40 acres of New Mexico land near Silver City with water, a giant four-wheel-drive Ford truck, a bazillion dollars worth of veg-oil diesel-truck conversion, fancy solar panels, a high-tech imported irrigation system, various animals and plastic Wally Mart crap, all with little obvious means of support.

Must be nice.

I point this out, because while I think this funny little book is supposed to motivate or inspire us to get off the grid, it sure sounds expensive.

The book opens with Homer Simpson advising: "If something's hard to do, then it's not worth doing." Interesting, since changing your whole lifestyle is apparently quite difficult, as this book ably demonstrates.

Our hero has four goals for his first year in New Mexico: use less oil; use renewable energy; eat more locally; and don't die in some stupid manner.

Fine, a 36-year-old ex-New Yorker, decided to see if someone who appreciates the comforts of the American Way could lower his energy footprint. The guy loves his laptop, Netflix, e-mail and booming stereo. He believes that (as long as you live in the United States and aren't in the military) this is the best time in history to be alive. "I wanted to prove that green 'Digital Age' living was possible," he rhapsodizes.

Well, by Page 8, we're rhapsodizing about that most important component of the male psyche--sex. We learn Fine is newly single and really struggling with the need to either secure his goat pen or go out and try to get laid. I suppose sex is sort of a "green" activity--safe sex anyway, although Fine doesn't offer an opinion on whether condoms should be recycled or not.

We learn his Subaru (you remember, the one in the title?) is called the LOVEsubee, has 240,000 miles and is pretty reliable. Given the author's proclivities and the name of the car, we probably don't want to delve too deeply into what may or may not have gone on in the back seat.

But I digress.

The loyal Subaru gets dumped in favor of a huge green (as in the color) Ford monster diesel pickup truck. Apparently, switching to biodiesel requires having a diesel vehicle that one can convert. We aren't told what sort of carbon footprint the manufacture of a behemoth like this involves, but hey, that's a detail, OK? The conversion mostly involves installing a heating system so that the grease you're running on doesn't solidify and permanently clog your fuel lines, kind of like your arteries if you eat a lot of ice cream like Fine does.

He buys the official cattle dog, the cowboy hat, the shotgun and a pair of disgustingly cute yet precocious baby she-goats that he picks up in Tucson. The goats, named Natalie (Merchant) and Melissa (Etheridge), steal the show. Natalie falls ill and nearly dies right off the bat, and Fine goes through hell trying to keep her alive during what turns out to be one of the more horrendous rainstorms in years. He drives across the dangerously flooded Mimbres River, a stunt with the word "moron" written all over it, given the number of people who die doing this every year in our region. The goats are as spoiled as they are endlessly entertaining. One is described as "Judge Judy with PMS," while the other is more of a girly-girl goat. They love decimating his rosebushes, and he has little success stopping them.

Mr. Fine is a very funny man, a sort of Laurie Notaro for the green set.

His adventures in green Digital Age living will keep you howling and wondering what bizarre thing is going to happen next. The random factoids and recipes he includes are an odd touch, but the endless focus on sex becomes tedious. But it's obvious he's having a good time. In a way, this is a love story about a greenhorn New Yorker, what he calls the Funky Butte Ranch and his attempt to make this strange new place a home. Or maybe it's just a New Mexico love story about a man and a pair of goats. Wait, that doesn't sound right ...

"Each day I had another chance to make good choices, to move toward a healthy, independent, sustainable life," he says. That's the real moral of this green, if slightly expensive, Southwestern tale.