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It isn’t easy being green, but author finds it’s fun

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Doug Fine

Doug Fine

Doug Fine is a native New Yorker and a journalist who enjoys reporting that requires adventure, like in the remote forests and war zones of Myanmar, Rwanda, Laos, Guatemala and Tajikistan.

His latest project took him to an obscure valley in New Mexico so he could write about living completely green among the goats and coyotes.

He chose New Mexico because he likes green chilies, and because he could expect a lot of sun for solar power.

His book, "Farewell, My Subaru: An Epic Adventure in Local Living," is both funny and informative. He talks about his experiences converting his "Funky Butte Ranch" to solar power, including lights, refrigerator, washing machine, computer, hot water, and most important, his booming stereo subwoofers.

The electric oven, which he plans to power by methane harvested from his toilet, is the exception.

And Fine uses a system of drip irrigation that works very well in a dry climate.

He has near-death experiences from drowning, electrocution, wind, a mountain lion, rattlesnakes and hail.

"I suffer so others don't have to," exulted Fine during a lively phone interview from his now-permanent New Mexico home near Silver City. "I'm having a great time! I hesitate to promise anyone happiness if they get rid of their Subarus, but I intend to keep doing it."

Fine asserted that, "I think you have to be susceptible to finding someone new and doesn't take himself too seriously. Every mistake leads to a new chapter of the next book."

His most difficult challenge turned out to be raising food. "Having grown up in the suburbs eating Domino's Pizza, I found myself raising goats with my shotgun. Maybe my clumsiness and ineptitude were attractive to Michele," he said.

He was speaking of the young woman with whom he fell in love while living on the ranch. Who would have predicted that he would find romance with a history and yoga teacher in Silver City? It was an unexpected bonus to a horrendous experience.

"It is extremely empowering to gain control over so many things in your life," Fine said. "When there is a power failure, my ranch still has lights because it's solar powered. Going to the barn each morning to get eggs is a magical experience."

He gave up his Subaru and now drives an oversized Ford F-250 truck with a diesel engine to town, 60 miles round trip weekly, and he uses carbon-neutral vegetable oil for fuel. The oil comes from restaurant fryers. It needs no conversion, but he had to get used to the "constant coating of grease."

He can get apples, peaches, vegetables, dairy and beef without a commute.

Fine raises ducks, goats and chickens (including a rooster named "Donald Trump"). This gives him access to fresh eggs, milk and cheese to either eat or barter for other food staples with others in the valley. This summer he hopes to get enough goat milk to make his own ice cream.

He's also building a passive solar greenhouse that will produce bananas, limes and avocados.

Fine's editor included recipes in the book because he thought a lot of people are not connected to their food supplies.

"We need to reconnect people with the joy of cooking," Fine said. "You wouldn't outsource intimacy with a loved one, but we outsource our food to a hamburger joint. There's joy in real food that tastes good."

Initially, Fine felt like giving up every week.

"My message is that while the reader is laughing at my mistakes, he/she will also see that he/she can do it, too. I like to follow things through, yet so much of this was so easy and seamless. Now I have all the amenities I could ever want. I'm not missing anything."

Fine recalled traveling all over the world and "writing about terrible things, but I'm always trying to look for a bright side. If people consider me a humor writer, I'll take that because it can lead to a more serious take on the issues."

In fact, Fine could probably be a stand-up comedian. He delivers one-liners effortlessly and likes to talk. People seem to expect him to be "a tweedy guy with a cigar" when he goes on book tour, "but they find me. I wouldn't mind doing stand-up comedy, actually."

When Fine tours, he "loosens" people up, then hits them with the argument that "green is patriotic."

Perhaps his most disturbing experience was "messing with wiring and nearly electrocuting myself. You shouldn't install 30-foot-high panels in a biblical windstorm — but it's a breeze to replace your old grid electricity, which usually comes from coal or gas or nuclear, with energy from the sun."

E-mail: dennis@desnews.com