Doug Fine's excellent nanny goat adventure

"Farewell, My Subaru" is a low-carbon "Odyssey," dripping with wry humor and fast food grease biofuel.

Published July 1, 2008 5:45PM (EDT)

I will be honest -- I did not expect to be captivated by Doug Fine's ode to sustainable, local living, "Farewell, My Subaru." As the producer of more than my fair of share of overly earnest blog posts worrying about global warming and resource constraints and all that other stuff deranged Wall Street Journal columnists like to call "mass neurosis," I was less than enthralled by the prospect of immersing myself in a book-length dose of post-hippie back-to-the-land rhapsodizing. (Call me hypocritical, but my life drowns in such contradictions.)

Then, in an idle moment, I started leafing through Fine's tales of solar power and nanny goat misadventures. And 24 hours later, I was done, with a smile on my face.

The joy of "Farewell, My Subaru" is that a chuckle or a wry grin is waiting on every page, if not each paragraph. It's the kind of humor that builds gradually, that sneaks up on you with such stealth that you hardly even realize what a good time you're having until it's all over. By the end of "Farewell, My Subaru" you can think of nothing that would seem like more fun than hanging out at Fine's ranch, vainly striving to keep his goats from eating the rose bushes. Think James Herriot's "All Creatures Great and Small" -- updated as appropriate for the iPod generation.

Here, for example, is Fine noting the lifestyle changes that arrive after he trades in his Subaru for a diesel-powered Ford F-250 pickup truck. (He has to switch to diesel to live his dream of a veggie-fueled, zero-carbon transportation lifestyle.)

But I surprised myself by immediately taking to the Monster Truck I had purchased, the way a recruit handed a bazooka might become entranced by blowing up entire houses during target practice...

On my test drive I noticed tiny Hummers and Suburbans bowing deferentially out of my lane, their drivers smiling submissively and waving me on. I started reading clearance signs because of close calls at my initial overpasses, and when I pulled over I figured out quickly that whatever else it meant to be a full-size truck owner, I was now a parking lot refugee. I've since had scientist friends do the calculations, and it is physically impossible, in the Earth's atmosphere, to steer a 2001 Ford F-250 into a standard parking space on the first try. I suddenly felt deep empathy with every excluded minority. Before the morning was out, I discovered that all of us Monster Truck drivers congregate grumpily on the outskirts of supermarket and hardware store parking lots, taking up one and a third spots and suiting up for the long trek inside. Usually we leave our engines running, since starting a diesel V-8 engine (on any fuel) is such an event that three or more simultaneous starts can affect oil prices worldwide...

Fine makes his low-carbon Odyssey sound like fun, albeit involving a ton of hard manual labor and the occasional coyote- or hawk-inflicted tragedy. Best of all, the tales of the Funky Butte Ranch do not end with the volume. The story continues at his Web site. For a representative sampling, I recommend Fine's account of the trauma inflicted by the temporary arrival of Walt, the Scimitar-Wielding Stud Billy Goat.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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