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Kids find an awesome place in the natural world

April 23, 2007
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@dcn.davis.ca.us

“A Leaky Tent is a Piece of Paradise: 20 Young Writers on Finding a Place in the Natural World” (2007) is a wonderful collection of excellent writing, perfect for this time of year.

Since yesterday was Earth Day, I can think of no better way to celebrate the season than by reading these unpredictable essays, published by Sierra Club Books.

For instance, Brooklyn writer and apartment-dweller Liesl Schwabe admits that she is no tree-hugger. Her 5-year-old son does not like the feel of grass under his bare feet and once asked her, as they drove upstate for the weekend, when they would “get away from all these trees.”

Yet Schwabe came to love and appreciate the seasons – and their fruits and vegetables -- through her job as a waitress in an organic food restaurant and her membership in a food co-op, not to mention her early morning food trips to New York’s produce markets.

And Tim Neville – now a travel journalist -- writes of his early camping experiences in his essay “Once Upon a Time in a Tent.”

It begins: “The first day of my senior year in high school started with a moment so traumatic that I eventually gave up on life and moved out of my parents’ house and into a tent in the backyard: my girlfriend dumped me.”

An even more unlikely essay is “Sissies in the Wood” about a gay gathering in Tennessee and a gay man’s second experience with camping (his first being a nightmare of a family camp-out).

When a drag queen in spiked heels teaches him how to pitch a tent, Hugh Ryan begins to think his week in the woods might have some possibilities.

A more traditional piece is Sam Moulton’s description of a 1,581-mile canoe trip from Wisconsin to the Arctic Circle with three friends. Near the end of the adventure he almost casually describes a near-death goof-up when the tide carries away their boats. The boats aren’t far away but the icy water and freezing air temperature makes retrieval tricky. The crisis is over in less than 30 minutes but Moulton must have aged a lifetime in that half-hour.

Closer to home is Jonathan Kiefer’s piece, “Trespassing,” about learning to love the rough, raw Nevada desert despite a $142 speeding ticket.

Kiefer has been the associate arts editor for the Sacramento News & Review and according to biographical notes he is working on a book about the cinema of the San Francisco Bay Area, to be published by City Lights Books this year.

Each of these essays says something about how the writer came to find a place, no matter how tenuous, in the natural world.

“Warning: This is not your parents’ nature writing,” says Bonnie Tsui, editor of the collection. But that’s not really true. The essays are marked by good writing, humor, and original insights and will appeal widely.

Like most good books, “A Leaky Tent” may well inspire you and give you the freedom to write about your own brushes with nature.

If you don’t quite know what to do with pieces you want to write or have written, take a tip from Melanie Bowden. Bowden, author of “Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me? True Stories of New Motherhood,” is giving a class on magazine writing.

The class will take place Saturday, May 19, from 9 a.m. to noon at the Davis Senior Center. This three-hour workshop offered through Davis Parks and Community Services will include information on finding article ideas, researching magazine markets, writing query letters, and working with editors. The cost is $30 for Davis residents and $40 for non-residents.

And if you are hungry for still more wonderful travel writing, “On the Rez”(2000) by Ian Frazier is super. I loved his 1989 book, “Great Plains,” and this is a closer look at modern-day American Indians who live in New York City and on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the plains and badlands of the American West.

-- Reach Elisabeth Sherwin at gizmo@dcn.org and watch for more local writers to be featured biweekly at this web site.

For More Information, Visit These Links:
Official Sierra Club Web Site
Sierra Club at Wikipedia

To inquire about ordering any of the above mentioned books from an independent bookstore,
Bogey's Books at discounted prices [ Click Here ]

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