Author and journalist Doug Fine’s three books constitute three looks at largely rural lifestyles, from three distinct viewpoints. They represent his progression into real sustainability, both in his own lifestyle and his understanding of others’ approaches to rural independence.
2004’s Not Really an Alaskan Mountain Man is Fine’s recounting of his experiences in the North, mostly over the winter of 1998-99. In it, he humorously describes several, mostly hapless episodes, in what he called his “descent from Cheechakohood.” My friend and former colleague, Lori Townsend describes Doug’s book:
Doug Fine might not really be a Mountain Man, but he really is a top-notch storyteller. He shows us that dreams are not silly or impossible to fulfill; as long as we don’t take ourselves too seriously, don’t mind a bit of humility, and listen with childlike joy and curiosity to the many voices of wisdom in the wilderness.
I didn’t bump into Doug while he was up here in Alaska, but my friends who did assure me he became a real Alaskan, and the “Mountain Man” label is overrated.
After his Alaska experiences at the turn of the century, Doug relocated to the remote country of southwestern New Mexico, where he set himself up on a solar-powered goat farm he created himself. That became the subject of his second book, Farewell, My Subaru. It is a book I found myself devouring over the course of two days, as I got sucked into reading about him applying some of the survivability lessons he had picked up in Alaska. He gets rid of his Subaru and buys a monster diesel truck, which he converts to running on vegetable oil. He learns about flash floods in arroyos, rattlesnakes and the cantankerousness of goats. It is a hilarious book, and like Alaskan Mountain Man, full of childlike joy and curiosity.
His third book, Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution, is his most important volume to date. He traces the 2011 life of a single cannabis plant from cloning to harvest to ingestion by a medical marijuana user, who benefits enormously from the herb’s benign effects. Around this central story, he describes many aspects of what was at the time of writing, the biggest chink in the teetering walls of the U.S. drug war infrastructure: the cannabis industry in California’s Emerald Triangle. And he comments on the overall American war on cannabis use, cultivation, research and development. Packed within the book’s 324 pages is the most effective marshaling of logical arguments against the criminalization of this plant that may exist.
But no sooner had Fine got the book out, than Washington and Colorado states’ voters overturned Federal cannabis policy on the local level, with voter initiatives legalizing cannabis (Too High to Fail predicted this). For the paperback edition, which came out four months ago, Fine added a new chapter – Afterword: One Year Later: The Drug War’s Berlin Wall Fell Even Sooner Than I Expected. And since Too High to Fail‘s update came out, Uruguay has decriminalized cannabis use. Each year more states provide for medical use of marijuana. More states, including my own Alaska, have upcoming legalization ballot initiatives or legislative bills. And other countries. Here’s a map that shows current legal status of medical cannabis worldwide. Alex Kreit, writing at Jurist last month, noted:
Whatever approach federal prosecutors takes, however, the emergence of marijuana manufacturers and retailers in Colorado and Washington is likely to shine an even brighter light on the reality that when it comes to federal marijuana law, the status quo is not sustainable.
Medical marijuana is already legal in twenty-one states and activists say they hope to pass recreational marijuana legalization measures in 10 states by 2017. Unless this trend in public opinion and state law takes a sudden and dramatic U-turn, federal law will need to catch up.
Doug Fine has made scores of appearances in the U.S. and in other countries, in which he makes the case for a more rational policy toward cannabis cultivation and use, whether for medicinal, recreational or industrial use. Here is a video of an appearance in London last month. Indeed, the subject of hemp is the target of Fine’s next book, due to come out in April, 2014: In Hemp Bound: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Next Agricultural Revolution, Fine will:
embark on a humorous yet rigorous journey to meet the men and women who are testing, researching, and pioneering hemp’s applications for the twenty-first century. From Denver, where Fine hitches a ride in a hemp-powered limo; to Asheville, North Carolina, where carbon-negative hempcrete- insulated houses are sparking a mini housing boom; to Manitoba where he raps his knuckles on the hood of a hemp tractor; and finally to the fields of east Colorado, where practical farmers are looking toward hemp to restore their agricultural economy—Fine learns how eminently possible it is for this long misunderstood plant to help us end dependence on fossil fuels, heal farm soils damaged after a century of growing monocultures, and bring even more taxable revenue into the economy than its smokable relative.
In both Too High to Fail and Hemp Bound (which will include a limited, special edition, bound in and printed upon hemp), Fine earnestly attempts to portray legalization and commercialization of hemp and cannabis as a potential economic boom for the country, and especially for areas where it is or will be cultivated. He makes the strongest case for this I have yet read. He also observes fine-tuning attempts by people who are trying to gentrify cannabis cultivation, as they seek to either expand acceptance of medicinal products, experiment with law enforcement-grower cooperation (as in California’s Mendocino County in 2011), or as they look for more cooperation between medical research facilities and growers.
Fine is also deeply committed to organic and sustainable agricultural practices, whether at his own (non-cannabis) farm in New Mexico, or in the reportage he provides in Too High to Fail. Here is a video he created about the book, at the time the hard cover edition came out. Here is Doug Fine, giving a TedxTalks presentation last September, in Albuquerque.
Please welcome Doug Fine to the Firedoglake Book Salon.
[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]