Some Fine advice for Earth Day - LancasterOnline: Books

Some Fine advice for Earth Day

The unsustainable lifestyle got his goat, so he got a goat.

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Posted: Saturday, April 17, 2010 11:55 pm | Updated: 6:45 pm, Wed Sep 11, 2013.

A few years ago Doug Fine moved to a remote corner of New Mexico to see if he could cut it as a green homesteader.

The suburban New York native was a true fish out of water.

But he's a reliably droll fish, and the water's delivered sustainably by solar-powered pump. Read "Farewell, My Subaru" to find out how Fine bumbled toward carbon neutrality while keeping his Netflix and Wi-Fi.

Or hear him describe it in person at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, April 22 (Earth Day), when he'll appear in Franklin & Marshall College's Mayser Gymnasium to present his "Petroleum Free in One Year" talk and slide show.

Better yet, do both.

Fine in print is kind of like humorist Dave Barry meeting end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it prophet James Howard Kunstler.

Fine came across that way, too, over the phone, when asked how a pizza-weaned boy ended up shunning big-box stores, milking goats to feed his ice cream fetish, and gleaning used KFC fryer oil to fuel his ROAT (ridiculously oversized American truck).

"I think it was always in me," replied Fine, who said family vacations in the national parks were the high points of his childhood. "I think there's an indigenous gene in all of us."

Before hunkering down in southwestern New Mexico, he backpacked and filed dispatches from five continents and became a correspondent for The Washington Post and National Public Radio, among others.

The bumbler shtick - "I make a career out of doing things wrong at first," Fine said - took off running in his first book, "Not Really an Alaskan Mountain Man."

It hits full flower at the Funky Butte Ranch, a kind of 2000's version of "Green Acres," where Fine struggles valiantly with the elements and his own rose bush-mugging goats.

Fortunately, he has friends.

Guys like Jimmy O, who, Fine writes, helps him bolt down solar panels in a windstorm "so fierce that it would have had a name if had formed over Florida."

Then there's Herbie, the 63-year-old pony-tailed hippie who stands 6 feet, 8 inches tall, weighs 115 pounds and "looked like a human birch tree." The pair spend a day shredding their flesh while building a solar water heater out of old sheet metal. Fine's drill is left with "a sort of Virgin of Guadalupe-shaped bloodstain."


"I don't think I'm exaggerating at all!" Fine said, adding that humor is a way to appeal to an audience he might not otherwise reach. He's equally serious about his take-home message, which is, if he can do this, anyone can.

And should.

"I believe there's time to save the planet," he said, but not much. He implores people to practice good carbon citizenship and provides 19 Web sites to get them started.

Take a step at a time, Fine urges, no matter where you are, no matter who you are.

"There's not some magical community of hand-holding around the rainbow," he acknowledged, "but the concept of local community is real."

So's the inner optimism that balances Fine's outer bungler.

Fine and his "sweetheart" have a son, nearly 2, and another child on the way, he reported.

He's pondering more book ideas, both fiction and nonfiction. A "Farewell, My Subaru" TV show is in development, he added. It's a sustainable "Curb Your Enthusiasm" kind of project.

Meanwhile, there are fresh eggs to gather and a coyote named "Dick Cheney" to outwit.

"This neo-rugged individualism that I practice and also make fun of," Fine said, "it's really a matter of scale.

"I'm almost completely a neophyte" compared to the pioneers. "But compared to [where] I came from, I'm almost Grizzly Adams. People say, 'You milk a goat?' "

Jon Rutter is a staff writer for the Sunday News. His e-mail address is

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