Harlan: De-compressing before the frenzy of summer

June is a month of frenzied transition.

While the familiar "June gloom" that rolls in early in the month often elicits groans, I enjoy watching the jacarandas mark the new season and flaunt their purple flowers against the matte-gray sky. I know that once June begins, the moderate pace of my life picks up rapidly.

For those of us with kids, it's a particularly hectic month. Wrapping up school projects, attending open houses, watching our students perform end-of-year concerts and theatrical events, and organizing class parties creates a chaotic environment. Add to the mix the need to finalize summer plans (camps, family vacations, daily activities), and it's enough to cause a lot of undue stress.

And I thought summer was a time for relaxation.

This month is especially challenging because while we look ahead to summer activities we still have milestone events — Father's Day, graduation ceremonies — to enjoy. It's difficult to take pleasure in the present with so much activity pulling us toward the future.

My family has learned to cope with the craziness of June by simply checking out in the middle of the month. For the past few years, along with my sister-in-law's family and other friends, we trek up to the Eastern Sierra for a camping trip on Father's Day. Over a few days we unplug (OK, I admit we use all types of electronic devices to keep my kids entertained during the five-hour drive) and escape to the beauty and tranquillity of the mountains.

In a month that is chock full of events, it's great to just slow down and enjoy a few days of unscheduled time.

For someone who is not exactly a morning person, I love to get up early to savor some coffee beside a campfire while everyone else slumbers. I welcome the chance to fall asleep in a hammock with the book that's been resting untouched on my bedside table for months. And I enjoy taking a solo hike, discovering new trails and scouting activities for the rest of our group.

More importantly, I appreciate the time with my family outside of our daily environment. Together, we embrace the simplicity of camp life. Even setting up camp — finding the right site, unloading gear, filling the bear boxes, and pitching tents — is a collective process where everyone helps without complaint (there's a little griping, but it's understandable after a long drive).

Of course, camping offers quality opportunities to learn some new skills and have real, unstructured conversations. While I like to help my daughters fish and teach them about the area's history (I'm pretty sure they tune me out when I describe the importance of Owens Lake or the Manzanar internment camp), I cherish the talks we have while we ascend a trail or gaze upon an alpine lake.

The real pleasure comes from watching how their powers of observation and curiosity are in high gear. While I'm accustomed to extracting an iPad from their hands at home, here my girls and their cousins innately rely their imaginations to entertain themselves. From creating makeshift art projects to building a rock bridge over the nearby creek to playing charades after dinner, they find joy in the simplest things.

With school finished today and a season of new opportunities ahead of us, I'm grateful for our self-imposed, mid-June break. Now it's time to prepare for an eventful summer in Costa Mesa.

JEFFREY HARLAN is an urban planner who lives on the Eastside of Costa Mesa.

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