A Haven of Encouragement

July 2, 2015
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Camp dancing girls in mirror
I was talking with a CIT (17-year-old “counselor in training”) recently, and she told me something interesting. She said, “Rockbrook taught me how to dance.” She had been a camper for many years before this summer training to join the Rockbrook staff, so I wasn’t too surprised, thinking that she had probably taken our dance activity and learned different moves there. But she went on explaining that before camp she was too shy to dance at all, “so embarrassed,” she remembered “hiding at middle school dances.” And then she said something really profound. “Rockbrook proved that I’m stronger than I think.”

What a wonderful affirmation of our mission at Rockbrook! Driving everything we do— from the program activities, special events, adventure trips, to the silly songs we sing at meals, for example, there is a camp culture that emphasizes kindness and generosity, attention and care for all those around us. For the counselors and campers alike, camp is a haven of encouragement, perfectly suited to foster self confidence, resilience and ultimately self esteem. Our goal for everyone here at Rockbrook is for them to realize that their authentic self, who they really are, is strong and beautiful. We hope camp provides real experiences proving that deep strength and beauty. You might think, you can’t dance, because maybe someone once gave you a funny look, but let’s try it and you’ll see you can! Figuring that out, and applying that confidence to other things, is such a fantastic lesson for young girls to learn, and camp makes it possible.

girls horseback rider in two-point positionA trip down to the horseback riding facilities of Rockbrook, down past the Carrier House, through the tunnel, and left at the French Broad river, never fails to impress. Members of the equestrian staff (all nine of them) will be hustling with barn chores, working with horses and campers preparing for the riding lessons that happen throughout the day. With 30 horses in the RBC herd this summer, and at last count, 88 girls taking horseback riding lessons this session, there’s a lot going on! Many of the girls are brand new to riding, but have by now learned how to tack up, mount, and feel comfortable on a horse. Most have quickly progressed, confidently walking and steering their mounts, over poles and in the two-point position. This photo shows instructor Gabby leading Coby, a 20-year-old, chestnut Thoroughbred gelding, as he helps a camper experience her first trot. It’s a great example of how the Rockbrook riding instructors are excellent and genuinely love introducing girls to riding, teaching them new skills, and helping advanced riders grow stronger and more confident. With this kind of quality instruction, these Rockbrook girls are really getting good!

camp water slide splashingOn the far side of the lake where the waterfall splashes in, there’s a dock and bridge leading to a set of stairs up a 30-foot tower. The top of that tower is the launching point for our water slide, affectionately known as “Big Samantha” (for no other reason than a few years back a Junior camper named it that, and it stuck). Made of soft vinyl that’s nice and slippery when we run a little water down it, the slide provides a 50-foot screaming, cool ride into the lake. One by one, the girls climb the tower, hurl themselves down the blue vinyl tarp, with spray splashing up, and finish by shooting out into the lake below. A short swim back to the exit ladders awaits, and then it’s back around for another slide!

indoor climbing wall camp girlWhen it turned drizzly late this afternoon, the climbing instructors moved from the Alpine Climbing tower into the gym so they could set up the climbs on our indoor climbing wall. The wall takes up one corner of the gym stretching about 25 feet from the floor to the rafters. Being in the corner, one route up uses both walls, teaching the girls a climbing move called “stemming” often used in a dihedral (inside corner). The wall has colored tape marking six different routes which vary by the size, shape and placement of the holds. The most difficult portion in slightly overhanging, which requires significantly more finger strength just to stay on the wall! Today each girl who signed up for climbing picked 2 different routes to attempt. The instructors coached them along the way encouraging the girls to focus on technique rather than simply getting to the top— balancing, shifting weight, and making each move slowly and smoothly. It was great to see the girls understand this coaching and climb beautifully.

Girls Camp Campers

Giddy with Wet Hair

July 1, 2015
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Kayak Camp Roll ClinicWhen you squish yourself into a colorful plastic kayak and seal yourself inside the boat by snapping a rubber, elastic skirt over the cockpit opening, like 16 or so Rockbrook girls did this morning, the boat feels like it’s part of you, making it fun to maneuver through the water. Using a double-bladed paddle, the girls can turn their boats quickly. In moving water though, when currents and obstacles can surprise you, these boats can suddenly tip over. At that point, a kayaker can slip out of her boat by tucking forward and pulling a loop on her spray skirt, performing a so called “wet exit.” There is a more advanced self rescue technique, however, called an “eskimo roll” where the kayaker stays in the boat. Rolling a kayak takes some practice to learn, so today Jamie, Leland and Andria, our kayaking instructors taught a “roll clinic” to girls at the lake. They demonstrated the coordinated series of actions a roll requires— tuck, set, sweep, snap, and lean —head, hips, shoulders and paddle all working together. Then, working one-on-one, they helped each camper learn the technique. Later, several Seniors proudly let me know that they “got their roll” and they were excited to get out on the river tomorrow.

Forest Marker ShoesAlso this morning, Jayne and Hunter led a group of girls on a hike to one of the highest points east of the Mississippi River, Black Balsam Knob (6214 ft) and Tennent Mountain (6040 ft). With a lunch packed, they left Rockbrook (2300 ft) and drove up and up, through misty clouds, to the Blue Ridge Parkway where the Art Loeb trail crosses near the road. This is way up there, high above most of the trees in the area, and even above the clouds filling the valleys below. This photo shows a US Geological Survey Bench Mark, indicating a point where the elevation has been measured and recorded (as well as the variety of footwear that can tackle this kind of high altitude hiking!). This was a great trip, exposing the girls to a uniquely stark, natural environment. The feeling being up there is amazing and everyone loved the impressive view.

For our afternoon cabin day (when individual activities are paused, so each cabin group can do something special together), we gathered all the Middlers and the Mini Session Seniors for a picnic dinner in the Pisgah Forest, and a stop at Sliding Rock. Ready in swim suits, we drove to our favorite picnic area and had hotdogs, homemade coleslaw, potato chips and fruit. We ate quickly— we’re always building appetites here at camp! —and then ran around a bit playing tag games before loading all the buses again for the short trip to “the Rock.”

Sliding Rock Girls CampSliding Rock Summer Camp

Sliding Rock is formed by Looking Glass Creek as it cascades over a 60-foot dome of rock ending in a deep pool at the bottom. It’s our habit to visit Sliding Rock after the area is officially closed to the public, but because we have a Forest Service permit that requires us to be self-sufficient with respect to first aid and lifeguards, we are permitted to slide after hours. This is great because, like tonight, we often have the place to ourselves and our mob of girls (82 of them this time) can enjoy more slide time. Visiting Sliding Rock is also our habit because the girls absolutely love it. It’s the roar of the “freezing” water as it spills down the rock. It’s the piercing screams of the girls as they take turns slipping, spinning and sliding down. It’s watching your friends splash and swim at the bottom. It’s all just super fun.

To top off the outing, we made one more stop— Dolly’s Dairy Bar. Everyone screamed (again!) with excitement when we pulled into the parking lot. With “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion” and other “Camp Flavors” on the menu, as well as more traditional flavors to chose from, it was simple for everyone to order a sweet treat they liked. Once again, when the Rockbrook girls arrived and everyone had their cup or cone, Dolly’s became quite a party. With this many girls, it doesn’t take long for them to start singing songs, laughing, and posing for silly photos. Back in the buses, still giddy with wet hair and probably a smudge of ice cream on a face or two, we were soon back at camp, happy to warm up and turn in for the evening.

Girls Summer Camp

Loud and Lively

June 30, 2015
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Teenager girls choresFresh baked muffinsThe “Hi-Ups” are our 16-year-old, 10th graders at camp. They live together in a special two-story cabin “high above” (hence their name) the camp in the woods behind the dining hall. This cabin, in addition to having a bright front porch with a clear view of the final zip line in our Zip Course, is rumored to have secret amenities these oldest campers enjoy. For example, according to some junior campers, the Hi-Ups have a flat screen TV and a Jacuzzi in their cabin… Wink, wink 😉 The Hi-Ups are essentially in charge of the dining hall. They arrive before each meal to set all the tables. They serve the large bowls and platters of food, fill drink pitchers, distributing what each table (cabin of girls) needs for every meal. Then, when everyone is done eating and the announcements have wrapped up, the real work begins— cleaning the dining hall. That means racking up the dishes for the CIT dishwashers, wiping down tables, sweeping the floor, and emptying all the trash cans. You can imagine, with almost 280 people eating, this is quite a chore. It helps to have many Hi-Ups, like the group of 15 this session, but in any case there is work to be done. And this group is doing that work superbly. With a little Taylor Swift playing in the background, they are cheerfully tackling these chores 3 times a day. You’d be proud if you saw them.

Another Hi-Up responsibility is distributing the muffins during our morning “muffin break.” The kitchen crew bakes up a surprise flavor of muffin each morning in time to give everyone a warm, soft, usually quite sweet, treat between the 1st and 2nd activity periods (around 10:45). The Hi-Ups grab the trays of muffins, and hand them out to the other campers trough a screened window slid open on the end of the dining hall porch. Today we enjoyed pumpkin muffins, and the day before that classic chocolate chip. When you write your girls at camp (sent an email lately?), ask them what their favorite muffin flavor is so far. I bet the word “chocolate” will be in their answer!

Girl Loading a GunCamp Quilting ProjectThe second day of activities moved everyone about the camp today being creative, active and adventurous along the way. In pottery, a few girls were trying their hand on the potter’s wheel while others were pressing lace into slabs of clay to make decorative tiles. The jewelry making activity was introducing beads and multi-strand friendship bracelets, while in Curosty, tabletop and floor looms clicked away. A group of juniors sat in the sun by the creek weaving baskets just as other girls worked on watercolors with the counselors teaching painting in Hobby Nook. We heard the pop of .22 caliber rifles from below at the riflery range and the “thunk” of arrows finding their targets at the archery activity area. Girls were learning back flips in Gymnastics, and cross-court volleys in tennis, playing ga-ga ball and later a huge game of kickball on the landsports field. Climbers were “on belay” climbing the Alpine Tower and Castle Rock high above camp, while 2 groups of girls made their way through the RBC Zip Line course (which has 3 zips through the woods and 3 different bridges connecting start and end points). The kayakers and canoers were busy learning strokes on the lake, as other girls practiced their cannonballs off the diving board.

Rafting crazy RapidSuper Costume at Summer CampMeanwhile, 64 campers took rafting trips today down the Nantahala River in Swain County. We offer these trips to all the Middler and Senior campers (Junior campers are too small according to our Forest Service permit) and generally about 95% of them sign up. The trip is that fun! The first group of 5 rafts spent the night camping at our nearby RBC outpost, waking up and arriving at the river to meet our veteran guides at the river’s put-in. The weather was a little misty starting out, so we suited up all the girls in blue spray jackets for extra warmth. After smashing through the rapids “Patton’s Run,” “Pyramid Rock,” and “Delbar’s Rock,” the sun poked out and it felt great. The Nantahala is a nice beginner’s whitewater river providing a balance between easy, calm sections and rapids that build as you go. In this way, the whole trip alternates between singing camp songs while floating along and screaming your head off through the bumps and spray of the larger rapids. The sun stayed out for the afternoon trip, and we were all back at camp in time for dinner.

For a special dinner too, because tonight was Birthday Night! And even better, it was Super Hero Birthday Night! So out came the costumes… Batman, superman, spiderman (their female versions of course). We saw Captain America, Wonder Woman, Dumbledore from Harry Potter, and many, many spontaneous, highly imaginative, super girls. All over the dining hall, as everyone sat according to their birth month, there were exclamations of “Pow!” “Bam!” and “Whamo!” Mixing the cabins and age groups like this was a fun way to both celebrate everyone’s birthday and enjoy 12 different homemade birthday cakes that the Hi-Ups decorated earlier today. We must have sung “Happy Birthday” or shouted it out 30 or more times! Still, it was a silly, loud and lively, meal made even more fun by all the great girls being together and enjoying it.

Tennis Camp Girls

Becoming Someone New

June 29, 2015
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Deep Breath...On this first day of activities—the first full day of camp—I am reminded that camp is more than just a chance to retreat from the rigors of the “real world,” to have some mindless fun and excitement, and to make new friends and reconnect with old ones. Camp is a place in which campers can become someone new every single day.

Downward DogMost of the 207 girls assembled here at Rockbrook this session wear some pretty standard labels for most of the year: student, daughter, sister, class president, team captain, honor roll student, and the like. They will belong to categories like these for a while, before growing up, and gaining some more exciting ones like lawyer, doctor, engineer.

This, of course, is all in the normal course of events.

Kayak Race!What camp does, is give girls a chance to don a whole host of other identities that most people never get to try. In just one day, I have seen the school-girls who were dropped off here yesterday morph into markswomen, mountain climbers, equestrians, basket-weavers, yogis, archers, and more.

Spider-Man DropI heard them swapping stories at lunch and during free swims. Giving each other tips on which side of the Alpine Tower makes for the best climb, as though they have been climbing for their whole lives and not just one morning. Boasting cheerfully about getting their wet-exits in kayaking on the very first day. Showing their cabin-mates the first steps of the dance that they will be premiering in the dance show at the end of the session.

Soaking the ReedsA Junior spent about five minutes this afternoon, explaining to me exactly how long the reeds needed to soak in the stream before they would be pliable enough to make a basket. She had never made a basket before. She was repeating to me what she had heard the instructor say just minutes before. But, in her mind, she was an expert, a basket-weaving professional, when an hour before she had been nothing of the kind.

Perfect FormEvery day, every hour, almost, these campers get to try something new, become something different, and expand a little more. By the end of the session, they might decide that they never again want to be an archer, or a climber, or a basket-weaver—but the hope is that, through all of this experimenting, they will leave here with a bit more of the confidence that it takes to become the varied and interesting women that they will one day grow to be.

A Simple Costume

Truly Meaningful

June 25, 2015
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Camp Uniform GirlsSpirit Fire Candle LightingSpirit Camp Fire Line UPAs we romp through our days here at Rockbrook, dressing up, singing zany songs, laughing and smiling more than not, it’s easy to forget that a big part of what fuels this exuberance is something quiet and deeply emotional. There are feelings at work here, feelings of kindness, caring and generosity that have defined our camp community, and it’s these positive feelings for each other, deep down, that make what we do so much fun. How much we all love camp deepens as this “Rockbrook Spirit” grows, drawing us all-the-closer each day.

Tonight during our closing “Spirit Fire,” we witnessed just how powerful these feelings are for your girls. How they sat (arm and arm, as closely as possible), what they said (about the friendships and personal confidence they’ve discovered at camp), and how many of them were moved to tears during the campfire —made it clear how truly meaningful this session of camp has been. Since 1921, Rockbrook girls have closed their sessions in this way, paying tribute, essentially, to each other, recalling that the personal strides they’ve experienced, while derived from inner courage, were largely made possible by the support they felt from their friends.

It was beautiful to see, girls of all ages expressing their gratitude, gathered around a fire, with stars and tall trees all around. The evening closed with Sarah lighting a candle from the campfire, and everyone then lighting their own small white candle. Guided by only candlelight, all the campers and their counselors then formed a line around the lake, facing inward. With crickets and frogs punctuating their soft singing, and golden candlelight reflecting off the lake, the whole scene was just gorgeous. There’s just no better way to affirm what camp means to us, and to mark the great session we just shared.

First Session Video Part Two

June 24, 2015
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We had such a great response from the last video we posted, we’re excited to share with you another one taken during First Session. Robbie from Go Swan Filmworks again spent the day with us this past Saturday filming short moments of life at Rockbrook. He’s edited all that footage into this little video. We love it, and hope you will too!

Feels Just Fine

June 23, 2015
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Cool Swim Girls at Summer CampThe intense summer heat the southeast has been experiencing has crept up this wooded mountain too. While not quite record setting, we’ve been only a couple of degrees shy of that, and everyone’s been remarking lately about the heat and humidity. Fortunately, Rockbrook is at an elevation of 2,250 feet above sea level, and that helps temperatures drop at night. So while we have broken into the 90s a bit in the afternoon, we are enjoying 60s in the cabins while sleeping. Add to that the many opportunities to cool off in our mountain-stream fed lake (the “Free Swim” periods before lunch and dinner, for example), and all this summer heat feels just fine.

Gaga Jump GirlFriendship Bracelet MakerIt’s hard to say exactly, but a very high percentage of the girls here, both campers and staff members, have water bottles that they carry around throughout the day… even more so, now, with this extra warm weather.  Well, It might be surprising, but with more water bottles around, we also see more friendship bracelets because they are often tied to the bottle’s handles. These are not simply campy decorations, though I suppose they are that too. No, these are unfinished friendship bracelets, now being carried around, always at-the-ready for a little more knot tying. The water bottle handles make perfect fixed points for tying the strands, yet also a great way to bring that fixed point with you on the go. Most girls will have more than one partially completed friendship bracelet dangling from their bottle, having several open projects because they have multiple friends in mind to receive them. There are a lot of friends. Camp is just that way.

The mastery being revealed these days at the Ga-ga pit is marvelous. With many hours of practice sharpening their skills, there are girls playing who are so agile, they are consistently in the game the longest. They leap from one foot to the other avoiding the ball, easily anticipating what each bounce will bring. It’s amazing to watch these girls play such a fast-paced game, and it’s equally exciting for them to play too.

Camp Super HeroesCaptain AmericaSince the very first day of camp this session, the CA campers (our 9th graders) have been planning a surprise party for the entire camp. After secretly choosing a theme for their party (their “Banquet”), these girls have since worked everyday to design decorations, music, costumes, skits, dances, and special food —all revolving around their theme. Their theme? Superheroes! The girls dressed as their favorite hero, 16 different ones. In addition to Spiderman, Batman and Ironman, we had Wonder Woman, Cat Woman, and Batgirl to even things out. They performed a skit that assembled thes powerful women, and another that featured the Avengers (Hulk, Hawkeye, Thor, and Captain America). The meal included “Superman Skewers” (fresh strawberries. blueberries, bananas and pineapple), “Power Sticks” (celery and carrot sticks), “Pop! Chicken” with Steak Fries, and “City’s Rubble” (Oreo puddling with gummy worms) for dessert.

Dressed in their new blue RBC t-shirts, everyone at camp danced and sang together between the skits and choreographed dances, as plenty of candy (and pop songs) fueled the whole event. So much stimulation— happy excited friends, food, music and dancing —it’s easy to see why the Rockbrook Banquets, including this one, are a highlight of every camp session. They are awesome!

Cmp Super hero costume party

A Camper’s Perspective

June 22, 2015
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On this blog, you read a lot about camp from the perspective of the staff. We try to bring you our observations, a bit about our camp philosophy and some tidbits about how we spend our days at camp. But today, we wanted to try something a little different. We asked three of our Middler campers to reflect on some of their favorite moments from camp. These three submissions sum up everything that there is to say about the anticipation, the wonder, and the excitement of camp better than this grown-up ever could. I hope you enjoy these as much as I did!

ANNIE–ATLANTA, GA

Annie“First Sight.”

I am ready to burst out of the car. We have been on the road for three hours and the GPS says ten miles to go. On a curvy road. Up a mountain. I try to swallow my impatience.

Looking out the window in boredom, I see…

“Rockbrook, Mom, stop the car! Rockbrook!”

We turn down the driveway.

“Annie, How are you feeling?”

I close my eyes. “Spectacular,” I lie. In reality, I am so nervous, I’m ready to run the 100-something miles home.

I take a breath and open my eyes. When I do, I catch my breath. I see a small waterfall in a crystal-clear stream, surrounded by mossy rocks. I see a beautiful forest where maples and oaks play hide-and-seek between the pines. The sunlight filters through the trees in a magical way. It makes everything look like it’s glowing and sparkling.

“Wow,” I murmur. The sight calms me. In that one moment, I know this will be an experience I will never forget.

ELLA–BREVARD, NC

EllaHi, I’m Ella. When they first told me to write about my most exciting, or my favorite, camp memory for the camp blog, I just couldn’t decide. So I thought about it some more, and I thought and I thought there were so many to choose from, and I couldn’t choose just one!

So, pondering on about what I should write, I realized that I had already found my topic: camp. Camp was my topic! If you are able to choose just one camp memory, then you need to make some more, and where else to make them than camp?

I realized that it was my seventh year here, so that has to count or something, right? But I am not going to start from today, I am going to start where it all began: seven years ago, on the first day of camp.

Now, don’t worry and keep reading, this is not going to be a long story about my whole life! So, just sit down and relax. It all started seven years ago on June 4th, 2008. I was five-years-old, and I had never been to a sleep-away camp before, so you could imagine how scared I was!

Now, take a look at me this year; I’m seven years older, I’ve gone here longer, I’ve made friends, and from now on I know that I will never leave Rockbrook Camp, for I love it too much!

ANNE–RALEIGH, NC

AnneHey! My name is Anne. This year (2015) is my seventh year here at RBC. And I am here to tell you about my favorite moment at camp.

When I first thought of it, I figured, “Oh, this will be easy–there are so many great things about camp!”

But, when I thought about it again, I realized just how hard this would be, because there are so many great things about camp!

After thinking about it for a while, I found that my favorite moment at camp is the first day. That is the day where I can be reunited with old friends, and meet new ones. I think about that day all year long. Rockbrook is a second home. The whole session is amazing. If I could remember everything that has happened in all seven years, then I would. But I can’t, I can only remember some things.

One of those things is the first day of camp. That is my favorite day of the whole session. Driving up, seeing Hi-Ups, talking to Sofie and Chase as they announce your name, hearing the counselors go crazy seeing you, and greeting new and old friends.

That’s why I love the first day. Everything is positive. I feel as though nothing can be bad or wrong on the first day. I love everything at camp, but the first day always stands out.

Sunday Slow-Down

June 21, 2015
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Color GuardSundays at Rockbrook give us all a chance to slow down. We put aside the exciting pace of camp, in which we have dozens of activities and events to choose from every day, and allow ourselves to take each moment one at a time.

Bear Hug!The first of these moments came this morning at 9 AM, when the rising bell rang. We all jumped out of bed, refreshed by the extra hour of sleep that we get every Sunday at camp, and made our way down to breakfast in our PJs. We skipped the chores. Those we’d save for later. We all enjoyed a breakfast of Krispy Kreme Donuts (a Sunday tradition) in our PJs, robes, and slippers.

The hour between breakfast and chapel was spent in cabins, hanging out with friends, and changing into whities. By the time all of the campers arrived on the Hill for the flag raising, teeth had been cleaned, hair had been brushed, and whities had been donned. We were all relaxed and happy as we stood in the sunshine and watched the Hi-Ups raise the flag.

Story TimeChapel this week was put on by the Juniors and Middlers, and the theme that they chose was “Fearlessness.” Sarah, as has become a tradition in the last several years, read the camp a book pertaining to the theme: “Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: A Cinderella Tale from Africa.” The heroine in the tale wins the hand of the king by braving a series of tests that prove her worthiness.

Talking to the GroupInspired by the story, several campers arose to tell the group what fearlessness means to them, and how they have experienced it in their time away at camp. Interestingly, the stories that they told were not so much about being entirely without fear, but rather about fully experiencing the various fears and anxieties that come along with being away from camp, and then conquering them. Campers talked about fearing homesickness, until they realized how much fun it is to experience the independence of camp; about fearing the water slide, until they got up the nerve to step off that platform, and felt the exhilaration of speeding down the chute and out into the lake; about fearing horses, until they finally sat upon a gentle horse, guided by an experienced hand, and learned that there was nothing to fear.

Got Her!Mop Award Win!Chapel was followed by Assembly on the Hill. The Middler counselors started things off with a hilarious skit in which they all played personifications of “Rockbrook Villains” (Snake, Heat, Poison Ivy, Moisture, Lost Crazy Creeks, etc.), trying to determine which of them had failed to replace their buddy tag after leaving the lake. After the presentations of the weekly “Mop Awards” for cleanest cabins that followed, counselors from each line represented their age groups in a water balloon challenge. The camp water balloon catapult was placed on the porch of the Junior Lodge, behind the campers. The challenge was for one counselor to attempt to shoot water balloons over the heads of the crowd, to where their partner was standing on the road. The counselor who hit their partner with the most water balloons would win. The Senior counselors won, and quite a few members of the crowd got drenched in the process.

Camp needs to have these slow days once in a while. We have to have days in which we all take our time, get a little goofy, and allow ahead, a week that, in this case, will involve Banquet, the play, a horse show, Spirit Fire, and Closing Day. Today was that last deep breath we all took before the end of camp.

Rocking the Whities