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A Leaky Tent Is a Piece of Paradise, just published by Sierra Club Books, is a smart, edgy, refreshingly offbeat collection of outdoor stories by talented young writers. 

To purchase the book from Sierra Club's on-line store at a special INSIDER discount--40% off for Sierra Club members and 30% off for nonmembers--just type in special discount code "LEAKY" at checkout.  Buy the book now.

To celebrate the publication of this unique collection, we created a sweepstakes and asked our readers to enter by submitting a story about their own piece of paradise in the outdoors.  Below are excerpts from some of our editors' favorite submissions.

Your Piece of Paradise
Thank you for the great stories!  We have added more since your last visit.  Enjoy!

Skunk It was just a routine camping trip in one of Florida's state parks. I was grimy after a hard day of paddling on the Oklochonee River and craved a good scrubbing. I also wanted to impress my new husband with a little "smell pretty" as we settled down in our cozy tent, so I washed my hair with a luscious, strawberry-scented shampoo.

After sleeping for a while, I was awakened by a feeling of pressure against my scalp and the sounds of breathing. No, it wasn't my groom being amorous; he was snoring softly at my side. Unzipping the tent flap, I looked outside to see a large raccoon staring expectantly at me, as if I might offer up some whipped cream with my strawberry shortcake. An insolent fellow, he took some persuading to leave, but eventually he did. I was awakened  by the persistent sniffing a second time. Again I chased the reluctant critter away with flailing arms and threats, waking my husband. When the sniffing resumed a third time, I was pissed! I grabbed a grapefruit out of our food box, determined to give the offensive beast a good scare. As I took aim and drew back my arm to throw the fruit, I realized that the creature standing in the dim moonlight was not the raccoon I had expected, but a large skunk. By then it was too late to stop the forward motion of my arm. I've since switched to unscented shampoo.
~ R. Robinson-Anderson ~

shoes Trust me when I say that there is such a thing as urban camping. A couple of years ago, a local TV station ran a promotion for a show about young, single, fashionable women: the first 500 people in line at a downtown store at 10:00 A.M. one Saturday morning would win a pair of designer shoes. As a starving college student, I couldn't fathom ever spending over $500 on a pair of shoes, so I rationalized that this might be my only opportunity to own something so nice. That Friday night I borrowed my roommate's sleeping bag and stuffed a novel, flashlight, almonds, and an airplane pillow into my backpack and headed to the city. I forgot an extra blanket, which might not have been a problem if I hadn't lined up right next to sprinklers. I was so excited about my place in the line (approximately thirtieth) that I forgot to consider my surroundings. Snuggled up inside the sleeping bag, on the cusp of sweet slumber, I only realized that it wasn't raining when the person next to me wasn't getting wet. I ran for cover and found a more suitable place to sleep, still in line, near a row of trees. Morning came and I got the shoes—mauve flats that felt and even smelled wonderful. Were they worth a night of urban camping? Yes. Do I find them heavenly, my own piece of paradise? Absolutely!
~ C. Kemmerer ~

LionIn August 2004, I was camping at Kruger National Park, South Africa, with a small, low-impact group that has a commission to camp within the park. The camp was surrounded by an electric-wire fence powered with portable solar panels. One night a pride of lions rushed a bush pig into the electric fence, the wires snapped, and the whole hunting party raced into camp. There’s nothing quite as heart-stopping as the sound of a male lion in trumpet roar just outside your canvas tent! Our guide rushed out of his own tent and threw rocks at the lions to make them leave. The next morning he calmly remarked, "You know, it’s hard to find good rocks in the dark when you need them."
~ C. Welsh ~

bird It was a warm August evening, and we were camping at Manresa State Beach near Santa Cruz, California. As I was walking down the trail from the parking lot to our tent, I had a wonderful view of the ocean. The air was balmy, with no fog rolling in that night, and I couldn't take my eyes off a dark cloud descending on the water. What was it? It must have been a quarter-mile wide. As I continued down the path, I suddenly realized it was a huge, swirling, diving cloud of birds. I ran the rest of the way to our campsite to tell the kids, who were inside our tent playing cards. "You guys won't believe this! Come on!" I couldn't begin to explain the magnitude of what they were going to see. We ran up a sand dune, at the top of which the sound of the birds was overwhelming. We dropped down onto the beach and couldn't believe our eyes. There were thousands of birds circling only a few feet above the water. They were squawking and diving, all flying in a moving, frantic cloud. We watched for a long time as they traveled up and down the coast. We assumed they were following a large school of fish. Then the dolphins came—a half-dozen or more. They seemed more interested in watching the birds than feeding. It was a magical experience that we’ll never forget.
~ P. O'Brien ~

alligatorGrowing up, I spent much of my childhood summers in the wilds of Ontario, Canada, where encounters with black bears, moose, deer, porcupines, beavers, and a host of other wild creatures were pretty much second nature to us. We knew when to quietly watch, calmly back off, or, in the case of an angry bear who caught us picking his blueberries, to size up the bear and scramble up a tree too small for him to climb but too large for him to knock down. These childhood experiences had endowed me with a confidence that I was well equipped to handle most wilderness encounters.

Fast-forward to my honeymoon, which my wife and I spent in sunny Florida, mostly tent camping. After a day of driving and sunning, we found ourselves in the Everglades. It was dark and we were ready to get some sleep, so we found a place just off the back road we had been traveling and pitched our tent in an apparently secluded location with a soft, sandy floor, then fell fast asleep.

As the morning sun began to warm our camping spot, we awoke to something moving the side of our tent. I sat up, unzipped the door, poked my head out, and was startled at what I saw. In the dark we had selected a small peninsula in a lake as our campsite. It was apparently a favorite spot for the local wildlife to get their morning sun: we were surrounded by more than a dozen large, hissing alligators. In a moment of desperate panic, I grabbed the rain fly from the top of the tent with the pole still in place, spun it over my head like a crazed helicopter, and danced around yelling at the gators. I'm not sure which of us was more startled, but we all went our separate ways as I set a new record for breaking camp and packing the car.
~ C. Eaton ~

coyote In 2006, my boyfriend and I decided to start our annual National Park vacation with Death Valley. We rented a car in Las Vegas and drove to the Death Valley campgrounds, and as we got out of the car I immediately understood how the place had gotten its name. I’d never felt a truly hot breeze. Usually a breeze cools you off, no matter what the temperature. Not here. I actually wanted the wind to stop blowing, since I felt hotter when it blew. We put up our tent, made dinner, and settled in for the evening. Lying there in the tent—no clothes, no covers, and burning up—I thought there was no way I’d ever be able to sleep. But as the night deepened, the temperature dropped, and before I knew it I was reaching for a blanket.

Then, in the middle of the night, I was awakened by a sound that sent chills down my entire body. Dozens of coyotes began howling all around us. Each howl seemed to echo through the desert, and it went on like this for just a few minutes. I wasn’t scared, but I reached over to grab my boyfriend’s hand to see if he was awake too. He squeezed my hand tightly, and I knew he was feeling the same way I was. This was the most amazing sound we’d ever heard. To be there when the silence of the desert night was broken by such an eerie, yet captivating, sound was truly a memorable experience.
~ T. Greene ~

Submit your own storyMy husband and I went to Lassen Volcanic National Park a few years ago on a weekend camping trip. Waking up the first morning, I heard something outside our tent. It was an unfamiliar rustling sound, and I was a little scared. My husband was still asleep next to me, so I decided to be brave and slowly unzipped the tent door to take a peek outside. When I looked around, there he was, a big chipmunk sitting on our picnic table trying to shove as many paper towels as he could into his mouth. When he saw me he froze, and it was the funniest sight I'd ever seen: a chipmunk looking like "OH NO, I'M BUSTED!" with paper towels hanging out of his mouth and his checks bulging. I laughed and laughed. To this day, I still remember the look on that chipmunk's face. 
~ D. Stanridge ~

Submit your story I remember the days spent camping with family when I was about ten years old. My aunt and uncle didn't have kids of their own, but they always brought us with them, and all of our cousins too. There wasn't much at the old camp but a platform, a tent, and an outhouse. The canvas tent had little pinholes where the light would shine through, and an occasional thunderstorm would grace us with drips and drops that covered our sleeping bags. The tent's musty smell is something I will never forget. Occasional camping trips still bring the memories flooding back.

My aunt and uncle are gone now, to that campground in the sky, but I will never forget the way they showed us what was important. Family, friends, laughter, marshmallows, ghost stories, and oh, the outhouse! A place to escape to and wonder if something was going to come up through the hole! That's what I miss the most.

Now, as my children have grown and I count the gray hairs appearing with each passing day, I can’t wait for grandchildren so that I can share with them a musty tent where the joys of childhood are passed on to yet another generation.
~ G. Harwood ~ 

Tell Us Your Story One night while I was sleeping in the loft of our cabin in the woods, my girlfriend shook me awake and whispered, "There's someone in the kitchen. Go down and get him out of here." I sniffed the air, and it was pretty clear, so I said, "That's not 'someone', that's a bear." I guess she wasn't satisfied with my response, since she immediately started shouting, "Get out of here and get it out of my house!" Knowing that further dialogue wouldn't be productive, I hauled myself out of bed into the cool August air, slipped down the ladder, walked around the wood stove, and came upon a massive ball of fur batting around a five-gallon bucket of rice in the moonlight. Why it didn't want the fruits and vegetables on the counter, I couldn't understand. The door was wide open, both of us having forgotten to latch it.

At this point my mind was grinding into first gear. I'll just roar at him and chase him out, I figured. So I raised my arms and gave my best Bryn Terfel imitation, and caught the bear's attention. It looked at me and slowly rose up. And up. And up. Bigger than an NFL defensive tackle, I thought. Nothing to do now but roar louder and look bigger. So I did. I got the real sense that the bear rolled his eyes as he cocked his head in an offensively disdainful manner, eased down to all fours, turned, and leisurely strolled out the door. Now, I really didn't want him to expect a future welcome— he wasn't a close relative, after all— and quite filled with my apparently fearsome, mesmerizing power, I had the bright idea that I should chase him pretty far away. So out the door I went, hands over head, roaring and posturing after the trotting bear, our 2:00 AM parade proceeding down the narrow dirt road. There are, however, other cabins on that road. When lights began snapping on, I realized that a naked man bellowing and chasing a bear down the lane might not be something I felt capable of explaining. I completely avoided our vacationing neighbors that August.
~ M. Mclaughlin ~

Submit your story I don't know what most people think of when they think about traveling in Africa, but I think of my old blue and green tent. I lived in Zimbabwe for more than three years, and I was able to travel all around southern and eastern Africa. I took my tent to Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Botswana, and South Africa. Two weeks before leaving Africa, I went to Namibia to join a safari. Our second night was Thanksgiving, so the Americans cooked ostrich, mashed potatoes, and candied yams on the open fire before we retreated to our tents. For the next few days we were in Etosha National Park. Two couples who had been part of the safari for more than two weeks had had enough of sleeping in tents. They decided to rent a bungalow and offered the couches to another camper and me. We both declined, happy with our own tents. After a couple of days, they asked how I was sleeping, thinking to tease me. It didn’t work. I told them that I was more than happy in my tent. I also shared a realization I had had one night—that I was pretty sure I could see a point in the future when I would look back on times spent, and that moment in particular, in tents in Africa and miss them terribly.

Sure enough, one cold February night, bundled under a thick comforter on a familiar bed in a secure house with central heating, I vividly remembered that moment in the tent when I was thinking of what was now my present. I cried, missing everything.
~ C. Bramble ~

Submit your storyFor our honeymoon, we decided to go on a 90-mile canoe trip in British Columbia. After driving all day, we were so tired that we just pulled off the side of the road and pitched our two-person tent. I don't know how long we were asleep, but we were awakened by the whistle blasts of a train and could feel the ground shaking the heck out of us. We had just gotten the tent flap open to see what was happening when the train rumbled by, blasting us with dirt and hot air. Closing the flap quickly, unable to see a thing, we simply fell back to sleep, exhausted. At daybreak we woke to find that we had pitched our tent about ten feet from the tracks. We didn’t remember crossing railroad tracks to get off the road. And now the argument—Who said, "Turn here" and "This looks okay" in the pitch black? We were so tired that we didn’t, and never will, know.
~ J. Cline ~

Submit your story My piece of paradise would never be described with the adjectives used so often in nature magazines. It isn't "sweeping" or "grandiose"; there are no "vistas."  My piece of paradise is camping lot 55 at Lake Arrowhead, Texas. When you pull into the park, you can get a cord of wood for your camp fire, provided there is no burn ban (as there often is in Texas), and a Dr. Pepper from the machine outside the small, cramped ranger's quarters. We usually prepay for our stay and just pick up our receipt and meander down the road past the sunflowers and the prairie-dog town to good old lot 55. Usually, we have no neighbors on either side of us (like I said, no sweeping, grandiose vistas), and we are greeted only by a park inhabitant—maybe a turtle, maybe a mockingbird. Always, the greeting is friendly but absent-minded. The creatures have better things to do.

After we unpack our tent and the cooler, propane grill, and our bikes, I let my fiancÚ, Jason, manage construction of the tent while I take off down the little path that connects the campsite to the lake. Sometimes, if it's dry enough (as it often is in Texas), I walk out on the damp ground that used to be covered by the lake. I walk past the trees and plants that are usually submerged; I watch the dragonflies, butterflies, and birds buzz over and around me. Sometimes, I sit at water's edge and watch the ducks and herons go about their busy lives. Always, I take a deep breath and feel my shoulders drop about a foot. I place my hands on the earth, I get my nose close to the ground, and I remember that I am part of all of this.

When enough time has passed (for Jason to be done pitching the tent), I walk back and help set up the chairs, get the trash bag tied in a tree, and stow away anything that could be dragged off by the inhabitants. And then we sit and smile at each other, stretch out our legs, and relax. Later, we'll take our bikes down to the prairie dogs and try to imitate their squeaking conversation. Occasionally, one will pose for a picture. Then we'll meander to the dock, park our bikes, and walk out onto the rickety boards. We'll stick our feet in the water and watch the ducks up-end for food. Later in the evening, we'll sit under the stars and watch the satellites go by. We'll smile again, affirming that we are indeed part of all of this. And then we'll get the best sleep of our lives and wake up as the birds call, ready to do it all again—being part of all of this.
~ B. Powell ~

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