Last night I went to the Chicago Cultural Center to see writer Doug Fine speak about his experiences in living locally and sustainably over the past few years. In his book, Farewell, My Subaru, Fine documents his often comical and unpredictable efforts to set up a sustainable life on his Funky Butte Ranch in New Mexico. Although entertainingly self-deprecating, Fine has accomplished a great deal: he installed solar panels which supply all of the power (except the stove, but he’s working on that) and warm his water, planted a huge vegetable garden, started raising goats (which sound adorable and incorrigible) and chickens (which are unstoppable egg machines) and converted his truck to diesel (which uses old KFC cooking oil).
His is such a great story, not only because the way he shares it is so enjoyable, but also because he’s basically a regular guy (he strongly stresses this) trying to live a good life. The other thing that impressed me about him was that he emphasizes not giving up the “American” lifestyle, or basically all the the wonderful conveniences and pleasures we have. This really spoke to me, as I feel exactly the same way. Only, I’m not about to go off the grid in New Mexico (as much as I like to occasionally fantasize about that). Here’s how Fine describes Farewell, My Subaru:
This ia a book of carbon-neutral carnage, about my attempts to kick oil while still living like an American. Farewell, My Subaru is the account of everything that can go wrong (and then right) when a regular guy tries to get oil out of his life. It details, among other embarrassing (but, my editor insists, inspiring) realities: coyotes eating my chickens, my near-death due to clumsiness during solar panel installation, and my suffering from Extreme Munchies thanks to the exhaust of my new carbon-neutral, vegetable oil-powered R.O.A.T. (Ridiculously Oversized American Truck). Hence the title of the book – I had to ditch the ol’ reliable Subaru in favor of a diesel. But for all the mishaps, I have reduced my electric bill by 80% and no longer need gas stations to drive. All while keeping my Netflix, my Internet, my fridge, washing machine, and most of all, my booming subwoofers.
I love it. And Fine clearly doesn’t just want to live this life; he wants to teach and inspire others to take steps, even if they’re small steps. He says, “I’d rather see 200 million people take first steps back from heedless growth and consumption than a few thousand take radical steps.”
Although the things he’s doing personally can seem daunting to the rest of us who aren’t willing to, say, climb on the roof to sweep snow off of the solar panels, the intention and the message are clear: we’re all in this together. And we can do it with humor, humility and grace.
One more quote that I really like from his blog:
Can a regular American kick his addiction to oil and live more locally while still dancing to thumping subwoofers and not looking like a refugee from a Rainbow Gathering? Not that there’s anything wrong with Rainbow Gatherings. But in 2007 and 2008, natty dreads and push-started VW buses aren’t going to convince a Soccer Mom in a minivan in Duluth to actually explore lifestyle options that don’t kill The Planet and everything on it.
And check out the video that introduces the story told in Farewell, My Subaru:
Oh, and have I mentioned I want chickens? You can have up to four in the city of Chicago. I’m not sure about the ordinance on goats yet.