I first realized the benefits of longer summer days when I moved to the Pacific Northwest. Down in southern California where I grew up, it doesn't stay light as late as it does up here. I come home after work and have plenty of time to dig in the garden or barbeque on the deck. Yesterday was officially the first day of summer, the longest day of the year. It's bittersweet because it comes with the guarantee of shorter days ahead. Oh, I know, it's just by a minute or so, but each day will be a little shorter from now on.

We have television in our house again and the best thing I've watched all week is a commercial by Coleman - the people who make the coolers. There's a catchy tune about being outdoors and kissing. The people in the commercial are all gorgeous, fit and happy couples standing amongst mighty mountains or beside raging rivers enjoying the great outdoors with a new Coleman tent. That commercial really makes me want to go camping.

I grew up on a ranch. Our responsibilities to feed, water and collect the eggs of 10,000 laying hens didn't allow for the luxury of family vacations. We only took one, a car trip to the Grand Canyon, during my entire childhood. We never camped.

I was 33 and my youngest son was in diapers when I went camping for the first time. We accompanied a fully outfitted family of experienced campers. I was particularly impressed with the multi-course breakfast they prepared on a wood fire at the crack of dawn. After being up most of the night with the baby, I followed my nose to the coffee and observed them in amazement. It was like watching the TV show Wagon Train.

I never camped again. When my boys were in high school, some friends invited them to go camping at Harris Beach in Brookings. We didn't know how to prepare. I realized then that I had failed as a parent. I had made sure my sons had swimming lessons, tennis lessons, trips to Disneyland, a Nintendo and library cards, but had ignored the camping component.

Things have changed. Collin recently lived for over a year in a camper while he worked on Savage Rapids Dam. He was alone on the Rogue River, cooking on a camp stove and hauling in water. He loved it. Dana, who was in diapers on his first camping trip, is now a camping cowboy. His wife comes from a long line of campers who have taught him the ropes. My son Matt in Portland camps to escape the city and get to the beach.

Me, I'm into andquot;camping light.andquot; Call ahead and reserve a yurt. My favorite spot is at Bullards State Park in Bandon, Ore. A yurt is half teepee and half cabin. The walls are made of fabric and stretched over a round wooden frame. At the top there is a round skylight you can open up.

A yurt has electric heat and lights. A yurt is equipped with beds as well as a table and chairs. Outside there's a fire pit and a picnic table. Beyond that, at Bullards, there's the beach and the historic Coquille River Lighthouse a short walk away. Rick, who spent his entire life doing the real thing, laughs at my idea of camping, but admits a yurt is pretty cool.

Whether it's traditional camping or faux camping, or something in between, the perks are the same: the smell of the camp fire on your clothes, the universe of stars overhead and the sounds of nature as you spend the night away from your routine. No phone. No TV. The best part, of course, is being with someone you love during the longest days and romantic nights of summer.