Rockbrook Camp News Archive

There's always a lot happening at a sleepaway camp like Rockbrook, and this blog is the way to keep up with it all. We regularly post news updates, photos of camp happenings, reports of special camper events, and Rockbrook surprises about it's program, campers and staff.

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The Richness of Our Days

July 23, 2014

Spirit Fire CampersThere’s a strange time warp that happens at camp, a sense of time that’s accentuated during a long session like the one we are finishing today. It’s peculiar how time passes here because for some reason it seems to both speed by, but also creep along day by day. Oddly you hear both kinds of comments from campers and counselors: “Wait? It’s only Wednesday?” and “I can’t believe it’s already time for Banquet!” My best explanation for this points to the richness of our days, to the incredibly abundant range of activities, surprise events, conversations, and meals we enjoy everyday. Packed into each day are so many things that engage, thrill, and perhaps challenge us. Camp life means making things, being with people, and going places. One moment we might be breathing hard from climbing the Junior Hill, and another we’ll be wringing a few drops of water from our hair thanks to a passing rainstorm. With this much going on— “constant activity” is not an exaggeration —we’re never “wasting time.” We’re filling our days to the brim with nature, relationships with caring people, excellent food, and dose after dose of silly fun.

Life at camp slows the passing of time because it accomplishes all of this. Adding up the sheer volume of new and different experiences, reflecting on it just a bit, paying attention to its details, we simply have a lot of time to recall. At camp, it’s hard to ignore the daily abundance of novel experiences and that slows down our perception of time. Simultaneously, however, these experiences are also really fun. They’re exciting, stimulating and fully engaging. With the collective spirit of camp amplifying every moment, we’re not having fun sporadically; we’re having a blast virtually every minute of our waking day. Because the abundance of our experience at camp is also an abundance of fun, our sense of time speeds up. After all, time really does fly when you’re having fun. The time warp of camp life, its seeming speed and span, springs from this unique combination.

Spirit Fire Friends
During our closing campfire tonight, our “Spirit Fire,” several campers and counselors stood to speak about what camp meant to them this session, recalling fondly the richness of their days at camp. For many, camp felt “too short” but also “the best summer of my life.” New campers described being nervous about camp at first, but quickly realizing that Rockbrook is a welcoming, encouraging, positive place ready to bring out everyone’s best. Returning campers talked about the incredible friendships they’ve formed at camp and how every summer they return, those friendships become more important to them.

Spirit Fire CandleSitting together like this under the white oaks, circled around a blazing orange fire, the deepest meanings of camp come to the surface.  Camp has brought us all closer together, just as it has challenged us to grow a “little in the spirit of Rockbrook.” The Spirit Fire is a beautiful ceremony in this way, celebrating all that we’ve experienced together. After hearing from the campers and counselors, and Sarah’s reflections on the session, everyone lit a small white candle and slowly formed a line around the lake. We stood for a few minutes looking out at the many reflections of candlelight in the water. It was a marvelous scene, and the perfect way to close the Spirit Fire.

Thank you everyone for your enthusiasm and support over the last few weeks. It’s been a phenomenal session, and we’re so proud how everyone helped make that possible. We look forward to welcoming you back the “Heart of a Wooded Mountain” soon!


It Just Feels Good

July 22, 2014

Fiber Arts CampWandering into Curosty, our fiber arts activity cabin, is like stepping into a working artist’s studio, maybe even a artists’ cooperative, because greeting you are colorful materials, finished and partly finished projects, and many hands busily creating. It’s a wondrous place. The cabin itself is built from 19th-century, hand-cut logs. It has a wood floor and a stone fireplace on one side, and draping its double-hung windows are bright red curtains. In one corner there are three 36-inch floor looms, and along two walls there are small tables with tabletop looms. The walls, though, are the most interesting because almost everything is covered with finished weavings, shelves with spools of thread, balls of yarn and strips of cloth. Embroidery floss, cane, reeds, kudzu vines, twigs and feathers are stacked or hung nearby. Three different areas display example projects the girls can make, things like bright baskets, complex loom weavings, lanyards, dream catchers, pot holders, hats, scarves, purses and wallets. Leading this creative whirlwind of weaving is Melanie Wilder who comes to us from Warren Wilson College where she is a supervisor of the Fiber Arts Program there. You can see Melanie in the background of this photo spinning yarn. She seems to always have a new project in the works for the girls. For example, they have a large group weaving that uses different bits of yarn, cloth and other fibers to create a mountain scene rather than a geometric pattern. She’s having some girls hammer a leaf between two pieces of cloth to transfer color from the leaf into the cloth leaving a neat design. The overall atmosphere in Curosty is joyfully creative as girls experiment with all these different materials and techniques. Sitting with friends, creating with your hands, twisting, threading, and tying different colorful strands, all while having time to chat, tell stories and laugh— being in Curosty just feels good.

High Ropes Course Kids ClimbingAt the Alpine Tower, our 50-foot High Ropes Course located in the woods behind our gym, the girls are working with a different sort of fiber, an 11 millimeter braided climbing rope. Instead of weaving, these girls are tying their harnesses to the rope so a staff member can belay them while climbing one of the 30 or so different routes to the top platform. The rope stretches from the climber up and over a pole above the platform and back down to the belayer on the ground. The tower is an excellent introduction to rock climbing because it requires the same balance, smooth motion, concentration and focused strength. Likewise the equipment and safety protocols are the same. With some routes being designed for a complete beginner and others requiring both polished climbing skills and strength, the Tower is an adventure activity that keeps girls coming back for more. After reaching the top platform, the climber is slowly lowered by the climbing staff members belaying. It’s possible— and a lot of girls do this intentionally for fun —to flip upside down on the rope, the belayer suspending you with your head a few feet from the ground. It’s a goofy stunt. After climbing the tower, and perhaps our climbing wall in the gym or one of the five climbs on Castle Rock, don’t be surprised when your daughter asks you to go climbing with her at the local gym. Not only will it be fun, it’ll be because she wants to show you she’s good at climbing, and knows what she’s doing.

1950s Diner BanquetTonight our 28 CA campers, our 9th graders, unveiled the theme of their secret banquet, and it was a great one: the 1950s. They called the banquet “1950s Diner.” The painted decorations, the floor-to-ceiling posters which lined every inch of wall space, referenced not just the music, the movies and television shows, and the fashion of that decade, but also diner food. In fact, for dinner they served classic hamburgers and french fries, with root beer, ice cream floats. Some of the CA girls wore poodle skirts, while others dressed like greasers and “Pink Ladies” from the movie Grease. One girl zipped around the dining hall on roller skates delivering plates of food. We also saw Marilyn Monroe, Lucile Ball, Debbie Reynolds, Ernest Hemingway, and a special guest appearance by Elvis. The skits were dance numbers with a giant cast of CAs reproducing dances like the “Hand Jive” and the “Twist,” for example. Alternating with songs from the 50s (“Jailhouse Rock,” “Rock Around the Clock” and “Johnny B. Goode”) and modern day pop songs, much of time was spent as a celebration dance party.

Camp 1950s Costume DanceCamp 50s Diner BanquetElvis Costume Party

It’s hard to explain why, but campers and counselors alike often remark the banquet is the highlight of their entire session. Considering all of the zany fun of camp, this is extraordinary. Yes, the banquet is really fun. The surprise might be a big part of that, as is the thrill of having candy decorating your dinner table. More significantly though, I think the banquets are a true expression of the relationships we’ve formed while at camp, the true friendships and connection we now feel with so many wonderful people. It’s that, combined with an awareness that this is our last crazy celebration together before the session closes. That’s why there is so much hugging at the banquet, and often tearful embracing. It’s an emotional time for must of us. We can feel that this is a very special time of our lives.

Kids Camp 1950s Banquet Party


A Calm at Twilight

July 21, 2014

Friendship Bracelets on the PorchTonight, during Twilight, I took a walk. Ordinarily, in that quiet hour just after dinner, I’m holed up in the office answering emails or returning phone calls. But tonight, after two gloomy days of drizzling rain, I decided to walk out beneath the clearing skies and see what there was to see.

Twilight is always a bit of a hodgepodge—you never know quite what you’ll get. There could be an all-camp event, like a dance or auction; there could be an impromptu gaga ball tournament, or a meeting of Rockbrook Readers on the Hillside Lodge porch; or there could be no organized events at all, just campers milling about and choosing their own way to fill the time until the bell rings for Evening Program.

Gaga TournamentTonight was that third sort of Twilight—the best sort, in my opinion. Campers ranged across the hill in the waning light. Clusters of girls sat on the still-damp grass, making friendship bracelets, chatting about their day, and watching the sun set.

A line of older campers, wearing workout clothes and kneepads, trooped down the hill to the gym, to play some volleyball. They talked and laughed as they made their way down the hill—some linked arms, some called up to their friends, sitting on the hill, asking them to come and watch the game.

Just Hanging AroundDuring this particular Twilight, the Dining Hall was being cordoned off by the CA’s. They’ll spend tonight and all of tomorrow transforming our everyday Dining Hall into another world of their creation. Their excited laughter seeped out from beneath the sheets they’d hung over the building’s screens and doors (to guard against curious eyes). Already, I could feel the anticipation for tomorrow night’s Banquet beginning to build.

Say Cheese!I sat with two Juniors on Hiker’s Rock for several minutes, watching as they built a fairy house (I tried to help, but I don’t have quite the knack for fairy architecture that they do). Their focus was admirable, and their conviction was complete that this structure would indeed be the home of Rockbrook fairies—and who am I to say that they were wrong?

Everybody Smile!The whole of Twilight was like this—peaceful, quiet, and happy. Mixed into the atmosphere, I think, was the knowledge that things would begin to speed up again soon. Tomorrow, there will be a steady increase of energy and anticipation, leading to Banquet. Wednesday will be a blur of packing, moving, plays, and Spirit Fire. Thursday, camp ends.

But tonight, we all took a breath together. We relished one last time the quiet and the ease of camp, and didn’t allow anything to make us to feel hurried or anxious. We sat beneath the dripping trees, and watched as night settled into place around us, content simply to be with one another.


Full Circle

July 20, 2014

Rainy Day View

As my 13th session at Rockbrook comes to a close, the image of a circle keeps coming to mind. The circle of life is ever apparent and intimately experienced when much of your time is spent outside. The circle of cause and effect is somehow more immediate here. A Rockbrook MothHellos and goodbyes cycle round and round, and are felt to the core by most who pass through this space. The rain comes down, then it gently lifts back up to the sky, and then falls back down on the mountains once again. We even sing songs about silver and gold friendships, and we sing them in rounds. “A circle is round. It has no end. That’s how long I want to be your friend.” All of these circles are never ending, just as circles should be. I know this because I have seen these particular circles since my first year of camp, when I was eight years old. The depth and intensity of their colors may vary, but they are part of why Rockbrook keeps calling me home.

“Life is an echo. What you send out comes back. What you sow, you reap. What you give, you get.” These truths apply wherever you go in life, but I have realized this summer that this circle is closer and more immediate here at camp than anywhere else that I’ve lived. ReunionsI don’t know if that is because we all live closely together in this beautiful microcosm of humanity, but I know that it happens. Speaking to a friend at the beginning of camp, we pondered on what made a specific person so magnetic and universally loved by all. We noticed that this person offered up her spirit wholly and unguarded. In a world that is often cautious and fearful, her openness and undiluted truth was beautiful to those around her. So she was surrounded by unguarded love and truth and beauty. I saw countless examples of this among people of all ages here at camp. Those who gave themselves fully and without reservation were met with like gifts ten fold. Even those with gray clouds and walls around them early on, were affected by all the positivity and unconditional love around them. They began to give off light, and it shone right back on them even more brightly. And it didn’t take long. Maybe life is more like a multifaceted mirror. Maybe that mirror is round, like a disco ball of light and color.

Until Next SummerThe Thursday before last was the first time I had ever been here for a Closing Day that wasn’t my day to leave as well. This took me out of my own feelings, changed my perspective, and brought into clear focus the intensity and beauty of emotion in that day. I had been there on Opening Day and seen campers say hesitant goodbyes to their parents, (and for many,) happy hellos to their camp friends. Now I was seeing them come full circle, with tearful goodbyes to friends and ecstatic hellos to parents. The emotion was palpable. As I looked through my camera lens, I was moved by the utter rawness of the feelings I saw. The joy was just as intense as the heartache, and it was all being felt at the same time.

So as this session comes to a close, I take solace in knowing that the circle keeps going around and we will be in this place again. I hope to hold tightly to the truth that what I experience is simply a reflection of what I am putting out there. I take with me a deeper understanding of how connected we all are. Sarah read us the words of Chief Seattle at our first chapel this session. His words illustrate this interconnectedness far better than I ever could: “Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

Dolly Robertson Herron
Camp Mom

Summer Flowers


Beautiful Results

July 19, 2014

The cold front that brought yesterday’s drizzle stuck around today keeping the temperatures in the 60s and everyone covered up in fleeces, sweatshirts and rain jackets. The low temperature this morning was 60 degrees and the high this afternoon was 65! Keeping it cool in the mountains! Weather like this may move us inside for the most part, but it also inspired us this morning to build fires in the Lodges’ fireplaces. Now a warm crackling fire was the backdrop to the drama class in the Junior Lodge, and was something even more soothing for the Yoga girls in the Hillside Lodge. It also seemed completely normal to roast marshmallows for s’mores in the Lakeview Lodge. It’s such a cozy feeling— the dry warmth of a wood fire on a chilly day like this.

Camp Wood Turning DemoWe were very excited today to welcome a guest artist to camp, George Peterson. George works with wood crafting both sculptural and functional pieces. He carves, etches and scars the wood using different tools and techniques to make each piece completely unique. He’s displayed his work in galleries across the United States (CA, MI, IL, PA, GA and NC to name a few states), has been featured in magazine articles, and has pieces held in prestigious museum collections (Boston Fine Arts Museum, for example). Here’s a link to one of his most recent gallery exhibitions. George is also the father of two girls who attend Rockbrook, and his wife Margaret is an Alumna of camp.

Camper sanding wooden bowlGeorge and Margaret spent the whole day with us presenting two wood turning workshops for the senior campers. George began the sessions by demonstrating how he uses a lathe to turn a log into the shape of a bowl. The whir of the electric lathe, the shower of twisty wood shavings, and the emerging bowl was very impressive to witness. Each girl then was given a walnut bowl to finish. George had prepared these in advance, turning them and letting them to dry to the point when they were ready to be sanded. In addition to sanding, each bowl needed some carving on the bottom, and for this the girls used an electric oscillating tool, with George guiding the tool as they carved.

Wood Carving Camp ProjectCamp displaying carved bowlFinished Carved Bowl

Some bowls had developed interesting cracks as they dried, and for those, Margaret and George demonstrated how to use a waxed cord to sew across the cracks, giving the bowl a really cool look. Everyone was able to add another finishing touch by branding their bowls with the letters “RBC.” George brought a metal brand which after being heated in a torch can burn those letters into the wood. The final finishing came when the girls applied a coat of mineral oil to their bowls bringing out the deep brown color of the walnut and adding a subtle shine to the wood. This was a very special experience for everyone, both informative and fun, and in the end, one with beautiful results.

Upper Green KayakingLearning to BelayDo you know how to belay? Well the girls who signed up for climbing were learning today. Belaying is the technique used to protect a climber from falls by using a special “belay device” to adjust the tension and slack in a climbing rope. It requires careful attention to the climber and a very specific pattern of hand motions manipulating the rope. The belay device (We use something called an “ATC”) adds friction to the rope when needed, making a great deal of strength unnecessary, and allowing even a small girl can keep a larger person safe while climbing.

This cool wet weather hasn’t hampered our kayakers. Just the opposite! They took a trip today to the Upper Green River, running a 4 mile section of moderately difficult class II and class III+ rapids. This is fast section with several large rapids that require accurate lines and strong paddling at times. Consequently, it’s rare to see a group of campers handle the Upper Green this well. Our Rockbrook girls crushed it!

It was time for some big excitement after dinner— a dance with the boys of Camp Carolina. Actually, we held two dances, with Rockbrook hosting the youngest boys, and CCB deejaying a dance for our Senior girls and Hi-Ups. We also organized a “Dance Alternative” activity in one of the Lodges for those girls who didn’t feel like dancing. If you take a look at the Photo Gallery, you’ll get a sense of how these dances are primarily a time to be silly, sing to your favorite pop songs, and jump around with your friends. For the younger girls dance, our friend DJ Marcus kept everyone moving with several group dances like the “Cha Cha Slide,” while over at Camp Carolina, the older girls leaped about to “Sandstorm.” Time flies at these events, but after the last song, we had to say our goodbyes and head back to camp. We enjoyed the whole evening. Thanks Camp Carolina!

Camp Dance GirlsCamp Dance Teens


Bullseyes and Blackened Butts

July 18, 2014

Dry Spice Rubbed PorkBig Grill BarbecueBarbecue pork at CampIt would be easy to go on and on about the food we all enjoy here at Rockbrook because everyday Rick and his team of cooks in the kitchen serve us wonderful, healthy meals. Lately dishes like his homemade lasagna (made with Rick’s special marinara tomato sauce, and 3 kinds of cheese!), freshly baked Focaccio bread (imagine the giant bowls of flour and the jug of bubbling yeast used to make the dough), and Caesar Salad with his own croutons and homemade dressing come to mind. Thanks to Rick, Rockbrook meals are complete and always yummy. One counselor commented that she looks forward to returning from her day off because she can “eat well again.” You might think our staff would be tired of the food we serve and be craving “real food” out in the “real world,” but when our camp food is this good, it’s the other way around.

Accomplishing this isn’t easy. It takes a great deal of planning, preparation time, and hard work by lots of hands. Today we all enjoyed an amazing example as Rick presented a meal of pulled-pork barbecue he seasoned and grilled over the last 2 days. Let me describe some of the process. He started with 171 pounds of “Boston Butts” (pork shoulder) and rubbed each of the 16 pieces with a dry spice blend of brown sugar, garlic powder, paprika, dry mustard, black pepper, plenty of salt and his “secret ingredient” coffee. Next on our 8-foot grill hot with charcoal, he cooked everything until completely charred on the outside, carefully adjusting the temperature to make sure there’s plenty of smokey flavor added. This step alone took several hours! Each blackened butt, then goes on a rack pan so it can be baked at a low temperature for another 10 hours or so. This crucial step removes most of the fat leaving the tenderest meat behind. Once out of the oven and mostly cooled, and after “resting” a bit, the final step was to pull the meat apart creating the strands that give traditional southern barbecue its unique texture. Rick began this process by ripping the pieces apart with a custom-made shredding tool attached to a drill, and finally pulling the remaining chunks by hand. That’s some work! At dinner, Rick served this delicious, smokey seasoned pork with a homemade vinegar-based sauce and soft buns to make barbecue sandwiches. He added freshly cut coleslaw, and warm baked beans to complete this very southern meal. And it was fantastic! After second and even third helpings, several of us felt perhaps a little too full, but also completely satisfied.

Girl Camp ArcherArchery BullseyeToday’s weather turned wet on us with light grey cloudy skies, temperatures in the 60s and an occasional light drizzle of rain. That moisture, while deepening the greens of the forest around us, brings out colorful raincoats and rubber boots as the girls make their way between activity buildings. Most activities stayed indoors, but the rain was light enough to allow some, like archery for example, to carry on. This meant wearing long sleeves of some sort or even a raincoat, but the girls seemed unfazed and even shot quite well, as you can see here with Sophia’s bullseye arrow.

Jug Band FireTonight’s Evening Program split the camp, because of the rain, into two groups for an Appalachian-inspired campfire program in the main Lodges. Somewhat reminiscent of the old television show “Hee-Haw,” the girls came dressed in flannel and jeans, found bandannas to tie back their pigtails, and even painted freckles on their cheeks. We called this program “Jug Band” because it included plenty of familiar songs to sing— “Mountain Dew,” “Cider Song,” and “Wagon Wheel” for example —and we encouraged the girls to play along on improvised instruments like shakers or other “jugs.” The program alternated between songs, funny skits, and opportunities to tell jokes. We learned, for example, what the sushi said to the hornet… “Wasabi!” And apparently, what you give a pig with a rash… “Oinkment.” With warm fires crackling in the fireplaces this was a delightful way for both groups to enjoy the cool misty evening, and a wonderful way to wrap up the day.


Slowing It Down

July 17, 2014

Yoga Camp PoseRifle NamesYesterday, I wrote about the physical activity of camp, highlighting a few of the ways we charge up at Rockbrook, but there are also activities where we ease off a bit and enjoy a slower pace. Yoga is probably the best example. It meets in the Hillside Lodge, and like its twin, the Lakeview Lodge, this building is constructed from massive cut blocks of grey granite, has a 4-foot tall fireplace on one side with a long porch on the other, and a beautiful hardwood floor inside. The Middlers use this Lodge for their Evening Programs, but during the day, it’s a sanctuary of colorful yoga mats, calm music, and relaxation. Mary Alice, our main yoga instructor, leads the girls through flexibility and concentration exercises followed by demonstrations of yoga poses. This might mean simply lying face up on the mat and listening to quiet flute music with hints of lavender oil in the air, and with that concentration established, then sitting up into the “Hero Pose” or “Thunderbolt Pose.” There is plenty of variety according to the age of the girls in the class, but for everyone taking yoga, it is a refreshing experience that nicely balances with other activities in camp.

Riflery could be another example of an activity more focused than frenetic, more composed and concentrated than brisk and busy. Like Yoga, target shooting benefits from first calming down and being aware of your breathing. There’s a stillness to riflery. Once the Instructor gives the standard command to commence firing, the shooters take plenty of time to load each bullet into their bolt-action, .22-caliber rifles, and to take steady aim at the target before firing. When shooting, there is no talking on the rifle range, and with everyone wearing ear protection, only the muffled popping sounds of the rifles can be heard. Scoring each 5-shot target is part of the fun, but I think the girls also enjoy the simple pace of riflery. Here too, it can be a nice change given the tempo of most things at Rockbrook.

Reading a book floating in the lakeRock Climbing Cool GirlHere’s another great example of taking it easy at camp— floating in the lake with a good book during the Free Swim period before lunch (or dinner). Most days, you’ll find a few girls doing exactly that, comfortably settled between the chilly water below and the warm sunshine above. I’d say that’s one of the joys of summer! All of these periods of free time, in fact, can be used to take things a little easier at camp. They are chances not only to follow your own interests, but often to simply take a break as well, whether that be to hang out with a book or take a quick shower.

Rock climbing is, at least in one way, another interesting example of a Rockbrook activity built upon careful concentration rather than rapid coordination. Certainly, it’s physically difficult. It does demand arm and leg strength to stand up on small rock ledges and to grip oddly sloping finger holds. At the same time though, rock climbing is akin to meditation as it too benefits from a calm and attentive state of mind. Successfully climbing a difficult route means ignoring how high you are and slowly working out the balance, hand and foot moves needed. Climbing too fast is sure to mean skipping an obvious hold or lead to awkward movements, making the whole experience more difficult and perhaps frustrating. The best rock climbers will look smooth and fluid, calmly in a state of “flow” as they move up the rock. With all the rock climbing at camp— trips to Looking Glass Rock, Castle Rock, and to our Alpine Tower just today —I think some of the girls are becoming a little obsessed with the feeling of “energized focus” rock climbing provides.

Ah, but we can’t “keep calm” for long around here! Tonight for our twilight activity, for example, we offered a classic, a shaving cream fight and slip ‘n slide.  Put together a mob of enthusiastic girls dressed in their swimsuits, give them about 150 cans of shaving cream, and just get out the way. That’s about all there is to one of the funniest, messiest, craziest, and most squeal-inducing events around.

Shaving Creamed ChildGirl Shaving CreamedShaving Creamed Kid

Frolicking with slippery foam like this, sneaking up and smearing a handful of the stuff in your friend’s hair, feels as exhilarating as it does mischievous. It’s yet another chance to do something rarely allowed at home, and to do it with a huge group of equally enthusiastic friends. It’s amazing that something this simple can be this fun, but it certainly is.

Shaving Creamed Friends


Intensified Action

July 16, 2014

Rockbrook GymnasticsRockbrook DanceThere’s no shortage of action here at Rockbrook. With all the swimming, jumping, hiking, climbing, and other sports going on everyday, there are girls wielding their athletic power all over camp. In the Lakeview Lodge, for example, we hold our scheduled dance classes. One side of the lodge is lined with mirrors and the open hardwood floor is polished perfectly for learning and practicing all kinds of dance moves. All three age groups are working on choreographed dance performances they plan to reveal next Wednesday during the intermission of the camp musical. It’s hard to describe the style of these dances other than to say they are “modern pop-eclectic” with a few traditional ballet moves sprinkled in. In any case, the girls are certainly working hard to sync their moves, and will definitely have a great show for us next week.

Another example of rhythmic action, combined with balance and flexibility, is the gymnastics classes being taught by Elaine Trozzo in our gym. Elaine has been teaching gymnastics at Rockbrook for 11 summers now, and as you might guess, is extraordinarily qualified. She has been a gymnastics competition judge, coached competitive teams and holds a USA Gymnastics certification, but more importantly, she is wonderful working with the girls, always patient, encouraging, and knowledgeable. Lately, there has been quite a bit of work on the balance beam with the girls progressing through basic skills like foot placement and core muscle control to more advanced moves and dismounts. The girls have also done well on the high bar, while some are perfecting their flips using the mini tramp, and other are focused primarily on stretching and then learning a floor exercise (e.g. a back walkover). Very impressive stuff!

Rockbrook Horse CampGirls Horse Camp RiderDown through the tunnel and over in the horseback riding rings, girls are also being active, balancing and working on their coordination, “dancing” in a way, only in this case there are horses involved. Our Head of Riding, Kelsi, has a full schedule of riders established with, in some cases, five different mounted lessons occurring simultaneously. There are different mounted lessons for riders with different abilities. So while 3 girls might be walking their horses in one ring, 4 other riders may be guiding their mounts over ground lines, and the most advanced riders jumping their horses over different heights of rails. With 28 horses at Rockbrook to care for, and ride, and so many campers ready to ride, the equestrian staff stays busy!

Camp Girl in a grit pitRockbrook Camp Sliding RockThe extraordinarily great weather this afternoon seemed to actually intensify the typical action we enjoy at Rockbrook. Being Wednesday, it was “cabin day,” that time of the week when we take the afternoon to do something as a cabin group or together with our entire age group, allowing all three lines to do something different. Today the Juniors held a princess party in their lodge with special snacks, music and of course costumes. The mini session Seniors took a ride into the Pisgah Forest for a picnic dinner, trip to sliding rock, and visit to Dolly’s Dairy Bar. But the Middler Line held the most elaborate event, a “Southern Block Party.” This included “Southern” snacks like Cheetos and Sugar wafers, line dancing, and the corn hole game. They also had fun painting colorful hand prints (using easily washable paint) on Cool Beans and Cloud Nine, two of our most famous white ponies. The funniest, and messiest, activity however was something the counselors called a “Grit Pit.” This consisted of a baby pool filled with, yes, grits (uncooked, but made with warm water). For those brave enough to try, the goal was to sit in the pool and cover yourself with as much grits as possible. Outrageous, certainly, but also a really fun, completely novel experience for the girls too. Using a digital scale to measure, camper Claudia topped everyone else with 16 pounds (!) of grits stuck to her in the end. Don’t worry though; like our hand-painted white ponies, all the gritty mess easily washed right off with a quick rinse under the hose. If you take a look at the photos from the event you’ll see that it was pretty silly, but also that everyone was grinning from the thrill of having this much fun in one afternoon.

Finally, I can’t help but include this photo of a day hike a few Seniors took with Clyde this morning up to Black Balsam mountain. It’s such a gorgeous spot, and in this amazing weather, it’s truly breathtaking.

Campers have Mountain View


Independence with Responsibility

July 15, 2014

Pancake PicnicCamp Fire Starting ClassIt has always been part of Rockbrook’s mission to go beyond simply entertaining our campers and to focus also on how we can provide more lasting benefits to the girls who attend camp. We certainly work to make sure everyday here includes something delightful, surprising and fun. If you merely look at the variety of activities available, all the free time options, and daily special gatherings (Twilight periods, Evening Programs, dining hall skits, assemblies, and all-camp events), it’s clear Rockbrook girls are having a blast. They’re outside, they’re actively engaged with creative, adventure, and athletic interests, and they’re laughing their heads off along the way.

But of course camp is much more than a series of amusements. It’s almost cliché to say it— partly because we (and others) talk about it a lot! —but there’s no doubt that a positive sleepaway camp experience helps build important character traits that serve children well later in life, traits like those “21st Century Skills” you may have heard about: Communication, Confidence, Compassion, Cooperation, Collaboration, Creativity, Courage, and so forth.

There are many aspects of camp life one could name that contribute to this transformative power: its emphasis on positive human relationships and the friendly, tight-knit community we enjoy, coming immediately to mind. There’s a starting point, however, I would say even a prerequisite to this character growth, something that if missing will reduce the camp experience to merely a vacation, or some other fleeting form of entertainment.

Camp Needlecraft Class on back porchAt the most fundamental level, camp is a powerful environment for character development because to provides children an opportunity to act independently. On a daily basis, kids at camp can exercise their independence. Without being tightly managed by parents or teachers, they get to make their own choices about what they’ll do, where they’ll go and ultimately, who they’ll be. This is quite a lot of freedom for kids when you think about it, and it might even make a parent nervous! What if she doesn’t brush her hair, or wears the same dirty shirt over and over again!? What if she doesn’t take tennis and finds rock climbing more her style? What if she stays up late and sleeps less (or more!) than usual? What if the freedom of camp meant “Do whatever you want?”

This would be a legitimate worry if not for the structure of camp life. Keep in mind that at camp the campers can’t do simply anything they chose. The freedom camp provides to act independently without parental authorization comes with significant limitations as well. There are, for example, clear procedural rules at camp— a daily schedule of activities, safety protocols, and how to clear dirty tableware after a meal, to name a few. Perhaps even more importantly, there are likewise social expectations where the girls realize the importance of treating each other with kindness, caring, generosity, honesty, and respect, for example. The camp environment, our culture and community, is built upon the support of these structural and social limits, and the camp staff, our cabin counselors primarily, serve as nurturing role models who embody the ideals from which they are derived.

Girls waving while in whitewater rafting boatWhat we have at camp is freedom with limitations, or to put it differently, independence with responsibility. This is important because one without the other would critically fail our campers’ developing character. At one extreme, unstructured independence would lead to an “anything goes” form of chaos, and kids would fail to grapple with the 21st Century skills mentioned above. At the other extreme, rigidly scripted behaviors would rob kids of their decision making power leaving them with mere recipes for life poorly suited to cope with the complexities of a changing world.

Camp life finds that balance by providing girls the freedom to make their own choices while also taking great care to guide those decisions appropriately.  And it’s this balance that teaches kids how to be responsible. So while she’s choosing to go whitewater rafting, or to spend a quiet afternoon decorating a memory box in KIT, or perhaps chatting with a friend on the hill after dinner instead of taking a shower, she’s exploring how to act responsibly as well.  By absorbing the positive values of camp— things like respect for others, appreciation of Nature, and courage to try new things —she’s developing qualities that will help her navigate responsibly in the future.

Rafting the nantahala river falls

Well, I may have gotten a little carried away here, but I wanted to report that your girls aren’t just eating pancakes on the hill in their PJ’s, or learning to build a fire, or blasting through the Nantahala Falls, or singing ’till their their throats hurt, or zipping down sliding rock— all things we enjoyed today. They’re making independent decisions all day long, and you’d be very proud, maybe even a little surprised, to see how confidently and responsibly they are making their way.


A Wrench in the Schedule

July 14, 2014

Ready for the Plunge!In many ways, the days here at camp run like clockwork.

Wake up at 8 AM. Breakfast at 8:30. Morning Assembly at 9:15. First Period at 9:45. Muffin Break at 10:45. And so on. Our schedule sets the pace of our day, and forms the framework of every camper’s experience. It is comfortable, and familiar; while it may contain countless activities that they had never dreamed they’d ever try, it is still what the campers expect after years of unchanging school routines.

Look, Mom, No Hands!But the schedule isn’t what the campers remember. Those day-to-day routines aren’t what they can’t stop talking about when they come home at the end of the session. They remember the spice, the excitement, and the spontaneity that are mixed into every piece of the schedule–surprising bits of joy so bright and exuberant, that the campers would never consider the camp schedule to be as unspectacular as their morning commutes to school.

Halfway UpThese surprises can be as small as a cabin making a spur-of-the-moment decision to all wear cowboy boots and Zorro masks to lunch, or as big as the adventure trips that we offer to campers every single day. Just yesterday, for instance, we offered five.

Between zip-lining, Castle-Rock-climbing, Green-River-kayaking, Cascade-Lake-canoeing, and Nantahala-rafting, every camper, from youngest to oldest, had the opportunity to throw a wrench into their schedule, and make their day spectacular.

Mid-FlightThey took their chance, threw out the schedule they had adopted on opening day, and set out to see the world in a new way–maybe from fifty feet above camp, zipping through the air. Maybe from the spectacular vantage point at the top of Castle Rock. Maybe from a tiny boat in the middle of a vast lake. Comfort zones were left far behind, without a second thought, by campers intent on having an adventure.

On the Road to Cascade LakeI had the pleasure of greeting these girls when they returned from their trips. They looked exhausted. And dirty. And sweaty. And really, really ready for a good night’s sleep. But they also looked bright-eyed, and thrilled with themselves. Even though they were utterly spent, they still jumped at the opportunity to list out everything they had accomplished that day, whether it was a hand-roll in a kayak, or the courage to step off a tall rock and zoom through the air on the zip line.

It would be back to the schedule tomorrow. Back to the more typical camp days, full of the smaller, though no less wonderful, accomplishments, like tackling a new friendship bracelet design in Jewelry Making. But they didn’t mind. They had made their day spectacular. They’d figure out a way to do the same for tomorrow, tomorrow.