A Magical Banquet

Everyone looks forward to it. It’s a wonderful surprise. It’s a celebration. Some call it a “blow out.” It’s guaranteed to be unique, fantastic, incredible. It takes weeks of planning and hard work preparing. It’s loud and colorful, entertaining and enticing. It’s campy and creative. It makes everyone smile, laugh and dance. Here at camp, it’s a gathering of your very best friends. This is the banquet.

hogwarts camp girls

The theme for our third session 2022 banquet was focused on the characters and styling of the Harry Potter book and movie series. The CA girls (9th graders) and their counselors worked their incredible magic to transform the dining hall into the great hall of Hogwarts with its long tables and floating candles.

They painted more than 100 panels depicting scenes from the books— portraits of Sirius Black, Harry Potter, Dumbledore, Dobby, and Nearly Headless Nick.

There were paintings of broom sticks, owls dropping letters, the flying car, Hagrid’s motor bike, wands, chocolate frogs, and Bertie Botts Beans. There was also the Mirror of Erised, Fluffy the 3-headed dog, Fawkes the phoenix, and Hedwig the owl.

They displayed detailed drawings of all four of the Hogwarts House crests: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin.

On the tables, each camper found a pair of Harry Potter glasses, a magical wand, and a Hogwarts Express train ticket. Spider ring and lightning bolt temporary tattoos were there too. Everyone also enjoyed a souvenir cup and of course fun candy treats to help amplify the mood between each course of the meal.

The CA costumes represented an amazing range of Harry Potter characters. The cast list included students from each house, but also some of the Hogwarts professors like Mad Eye Moody, Professor Snape, Professor McGonagall, even Professor Dolores Umbridge. One student dressed up as Dobby the house elf. There were two french Beauxbaton girls. There was also Rita Sceeter, Bellatrix Lestrange, and Hagrid roaming about the banquet.

These characters worked together to perform choreographed group dances to “Magic” by One Direction, “Black Magic” by Little Mix, and “Enchanted” by Taylor Swift. Between those performances, we all got up and danced to other pop songs. This was a dance party filled with a celebratory energy.

The food was magical too! The menu included: “Magic Wands and Potion Chips,” “Mrs. Weasley’s Chicken Tenders,” and “Troll Tater Tots.” The dessert was particularly creative— “Golden Snitches” made of cookie dough balls rolled in gold colored sugar. Each camper had a small can of soda to drink as well.

Whether the campers were familiar with the world of Harry Potter or not, there was a magical, other worldly quality to the whole event. The CA girls transformed the dining hall turning it into a unique, immersive experience like we’ve never encountered before. For some campers, this was their first banquet, and for others this was another great one to remember.

Like one of the main themes in the Harry Potter novels, this banquet was proof of the power of friendship. It was more than it could have been and was elevated above the ordinary because it happened at camp, a place where the girls already know each other, care for each other and feel accepted and encouraged. Smiling, singing and dancing, this banquet had great energy. A magical time together at camp.

harry potter party cast

Carrier Pigeon Writing

These last few days of camp are so relaxed and sweet.  The campers who are here now are ones who have really settled into the rhythm of camp life.  Homesickness has mostly been resolved, and friendships are deepening with each shared activity, surprise, and silly skit.  The campers know that their days here in the heart of a wooded mountain are coming to a close soon and they are clearly savoring these last moments. They are looking forward to seeing family again soon, but many are sad to say goodbye to each other.

Last night, the campers got a chance to participate in one of Rockbrook’s oldest traditions: writing for the Carrier Pigeon.  This is the name for the yearbook that is compiled and mailed to campers in the winter, and which serves as a warm reminder of carefree summer camp days.  It is named for the founder of Rockbrook, Nancy Carrier, and it was started when Rockbrook was just one week old.  In doing research for the book that several alumnae and I wrote last year about the history of Rockbrook, I was able to locate nearly all of the Carrier Pigeons from camp’s 101 year history.  These Carrier Pigeons are a treasure trove of stories, poems, jokes, drawings, and photographs that are in turn touching tributes, impressive feats of adventure, and hilarious tales of Rockbrook life throughout the years.

After dinner last night, we invited the campers to add their contributions to this summer’s Carrier Pigeon.  We thought you would enjoy a few samples of their work to get a sense of the fun and friendship that the campers are experiencing on a daily basis:

I love rockbrook drawing

“This year at Rockbrook was my first year. I’ve had a great time and made so many friends and so many memories. But I think I will write about my rafting experience. My cabin, like all, was offered the opportunity to go whitewater rafting. Most of us went and had a great time. If you’ve been whitewater rafting before, you might know that you can sit on the front of the boat and “ride the bull.” I went to ride the bull but it was super slippery so I fell into the ice-cold water. My friends pulled me up by my life jacket. Determined ride the bull, I tried again. I also slipped again and fell into the water again. Our instructor pulled me out of the water with one hand and dropped me into the raft. I was completely numb but laughing. I didn’t try to do it again.”

“Do you remember zipping through the camp, or racing to the lake? Who wouldn’t, when the memories made at RBC will last forever. Do you remember your first day and it already feeling like you have been here for weeks? Do you remember tying your friendship knots or braiding you cabin mate’s hair? Do you remember feeling welcome the second you drove up the hill? Do you remember passing notes during rest hour or making flashlight languages? I bet you remember all these things forever, because at Rockbrook, some of the smallest things take up the most room in our hearts.”

Today, a special group of campers, the CAs (the rising 10th graders) are currently hard at work on setting up the Banquet for the rest of camp.  They have draped sheets all around the dining hall and the rest of camp is eating today’s breakfast and lunch picnic-style, on the hill.  As you probably know, the theme of Banquet is a well-kept secret, and these CA girls have been spending all of their free time working on elaborately-painted decorations, practicing creative skits, creating a clever menu, and generally giving of their own time to create a magical evening for the younger girls.  While we cannot yet share the theme for this session’s banquet, it is one that is sure to be a fun and memorable one!

Also, a few parents have asked us about the photo gallery and wondering about yesterday.  We had a photographer that had a scheduling conflict, but we have lots of photos of today on the way!  Thanks for your patience and keep an eye on the gallery to figure out tonight’s Banquet theme!

Comfortable camp girls

Individual Choice

Being able to choose your own activity schedule is one of the core experiences for campers at Rockbrook. For some, it is something they really appreciate and love about camp. Instead of being assigned a series of activities, or having your parents be involved in what you end up doing at camp, Rockbrook takes extra efforts to make sure the girls themselves select their activities.

summer camp archery aiming girl

This can be challenging to schedule and has a degree of uncertainty built into it, but we want the girls to have a say in how they spend their time at camp. We want them to make those decisions and feel empowered by that agency and self-direction. Sometimes it can be very interesting for a parent to find out what their child has chosen to do. You might not know a few things about her preferences. Maybe she doesn’t love tennis, or maybe does have an interest in knitting, for example. Plus, part of the fun of camp is being drawn into activities that you wouldn’t otherwise do. A girl might sign up for climbing the Alpine Tower, for example, simply because her camp friend wants to try it. She might ordinarily be a little intimidated by that kind of adventure, but with an encouraging comrade, she might feel extra support and try it. Bingo! New experience, greater self confidence, and sense of accomplishment. Picking activities at home before arriving would undermine that benefit for the girls.

Last year when we were grappling more with COVID and were concerned about a possible infection spreading through our residential community, we created a system of cohorts that assigned activities separate from other cohorts. Each cabin group did activities together, effectively eliminating individual choice. Some camps do this routinely— rotating activities by cabin group. While this made our camp logistics easier, it made the girls miss tailoring their activity schedule to their own interests. They missed switching gears mid week, and they missed being able to do things directly with girls from other cabins. This was yet another reason why we were happy to return to our system of individual choice this summer.

The same is true for our off-camp trips. They are selected individually. A camper signs up for a trip only if she wants to try out a canoeing and camping trip, a backpacking trip, whitewater rafting, kayaking trip, day hike, or ride through the zipline course, for example. Here too, some girls sign up for these adventure trips every chance they get, while others are satisfied with just the zipline or rafting (the 2 most popular options), or neither. Going on trips means having to miss your scheduled activities, so that can sometimes dissuade a camper from signing up. Choosing one thing, necessarily means neglecting all the others. And if you’re excited about riflery, for example, you might be inclined to turn down a trip opportunity if it means you skipping that activity you’ve been looking forward to trying. It’s another decision to make, and another great example of how the girls at camp are allowed to shape their own experience… and grow in the process.

It’s often astounding to see these girls take charge of their days at camp. They’re selecting their own activities, but also deciding how to spend their free time. They’re initiating conversations, creating their own entertainment with others, and navigating the strange environment of camp— all without the guiding hand/opinion of their parents. As a result, they learn they can handle things. They can do things. They can lean into new situations and be OK. Yes, even the tiniest kids can do this. It might be a little messy at times (like when they decide to wear the same shirt too many days in a row…!), but it’s worth it to see them empowered, truly themselves, and absolutely jubilant too. Totally worth it.

camp rafting splash

Favorite Bell

It might be everyone’s favorite bell at camp. It’s “THE bell,” the bell mounted high in a tree at the dining hall that we ring to announce times at camp. This old bell— It’s from 1895! —is 24 inches in diameter, and has an amazing clear tone that when rung can be heard all over the camp. A sturdy rope is attached to the bell so that when the rope is pulled, the bell rocks back and forth on its stand ringing loudly. I love the idea that every single Rockbrook camper over it’s 100-year history has heard this same bell ring. It’s called girls to meals, and woken them up in the morning for decades!

girls muffin break

Of all the times the bell rings at camp, the ringing to announce muffin break has to be the campers’ favorite. Muffin break is simply wonderful. It’s a time between the first and second activity periods when we all gather for a homemade snack. Everyone converges on the dining hall to find out what the day’s surprise muffin flavor is, and then when enjoying the muffin, to meet friends and talk about the day so far for a little while. Friends taking different activities can trade stories about what they’re making (“a new tie-dye!”), what they’re doing (“riding a new horse!”), and what they just accomplished (“getting a bullseye in archery!”).

The muffin flavors are delicious too! The surprise makes it fun. It could be “mint chocolate chip,” or the classic “pumpkin chocolate chip,” or the colorful “funfetti,” or the more traditional “lemon poppyseed.” There’s a huge variety that our bakers have introduced over the years. Today’s flavor was “white chocolate apricot.” Fresh from the oven this morning, it was a huge hit. Yum! It’s easy to understand why that mid-morning bell gets the girls excited.

It was a little rainy this morning at camp. That’s unusual for a morning, but also something that barely slows us down around here. A light rain becomes simply part of the wonderful outdoor experience of our day. We simply grab our raincoat and carry on. So many of the activities can operate indoors (with a few exceptions), we can still find plenty to do. The girls are still climbing (in the gym), riding horses (under the covered arena), and playing tennis (now the tabletop kind in the dining hall). Of course, all the ordinary indoor craft activities still happen— weaving, pottery, woodworking, painting & drawings, tie-dying, needlecraft and folklore.

Even our zip line crews were able to operate in the light rain today. Sure everything gets a little wet, but the equipment and the participants can all be dried! The whole zip line course takes about an hour to complete, and consists of three different zips and 3 different challenge bridges. It weaves its way between the huge boulders and among the large trees of the forest up the hill toward Castle Rock. One zip passes right in front of a waterfall, “Stick Biscuit Falls.” One of the bridges is 40 feel in the air. The final zip is the highlight of the course. It’s a 450-foot screaming ride back into camp that’s both scary, because it’s really fast, and exhilarating, for the same reason. For the smallest Junior and the seasoned Senior camper, the zipline course is a blast. The most common reaction? “That was awesome!”

It might be surprising to see everyone carrying on despite the rain, despite being a little uncomfortable or despite conditions being less the “perfect.” But to me it’s another example of the inherent resilience of the girls at Rockbrook. I’ve said it before; Rockbrook teaches resilience. All camps do by virtue of the experience being separate from a child’s usual sources of comfort— most importantly their parents, but also the core familiarities in their lives like food, unencumbered privacy (the ability to “check out” whenever), easy electronic entertainment, and so forth. (By the way, I would say that your child’s smartphone has become one of her major sources of comfort, perhaps without you recognizing it…. Hmmm.) At camp, girls learn to live without those regular sources of support, and to still land on their feet when things don’t go according to their expectations, or they find themselves dealing with something unpleasant. This is an incredibly important life skill, being able to bounce back and reapply yourself, and being able to find comfort internally, in your own abilities. The culture and community of camp helps girls do that because everyone is doing it. It’s just what we do; we keep on moving. It’s ordinary camp life, but truly impressive too.

line of summer camp pals

An Animal Afternoon

Our Sunday afternoons at camp always involve a surprise special event for the whole camp, and today was a great one. You might be able to guess the general theme of the event if you remember the list of costumes for this session. One was called “petting zoo.” It clearly has something to do with animals, but in what way?

Well first of all, it’s a great theme for costumes because it can be anything related to animals. The girls could customize and get creative in all sorts of ways. Add ears! Add a tail! They could be a banana or a monkey. One camper dressed like a “pregnant chicken,” and another like a cow. The most popular animal costume was probably a cat, complete with ear headband, and whiskers. One of the funniest was a girl who described herself as a “zombie cow.” There was a shark too, and even a couple of horses.

To add to everyone’s costumes, 6 counselors set up face painting stations on the dining hall porch. Using foam brushes for large patches of color and thin bristle brushes for details, they painted incredibly detailed animals faces for the campers. Pigs, bears, and animals with whiskers soon began appearing. At times, the counselors painted abstract, animal-related, patterns and prints. Even the tiniest design added to the spirit of the event.

All over the camp there were animal related activities to enjoy. There was a wild hobby horse obstacle course relay. There was a cool spray limbo game that challenged everyone to “go low.” There was a silly ring toss game that involved girls tossing rings onto an inflatable flamingo hat. One set of counselors led several country line dances in the gym. There were familiar pop songs too, keeping the whole scene festive.

The different age groups took turns visiting the Lakeview lodge to hear a presentation on snakes. With several amazing examples brought out and displayed, the girls learned where the snakes came from and about their behavior. For example, most snakes run away from predators, but others will “play dead.” The stars of the show were the 4-ft long boa constrictor from Columbia, and the 5-ft long grey banded rat snake. The campers were able to touch these two snakes and get right up close to them to “pet them.” Some of the girls were a little frightened, but others were intrigued to discover the snakes were cool, dry, and not slimy at all.

porch string music

One final treat was the live bluegrass, old-time acoustic band that played during the event. Featuring our friend Ray Adams (who is also the camp bookkeeper!) and Madeline Dierauf (who is a member of our adventure staff this summer), the band also brought together a local banjo and upright bass player. The band played for 2 solid hours highlighting traditional mountain tunes. All of these musicians have played for large audiences, and they came together just for us this afternoon. It sounded fantastic! The girls probably didn’t realize it, but it was a real treat to have this caliber of music live at Rockbrook.

Live animals and live music. What a fun Sunday afternoon!

A Camper Perspective

As it’s only my 2nd year, I still don’t really know the complete “ropes” to the camp. I first arrived during my CA year (banquet year!), as COVID-19 delayed my final “regular” senior year of high school. In my opinion, it was a great year to begin my Rockbrook experience.

summer camp horse riders

COVID restrictions changed my first year of camp. Apparently, I didn’t really experience all of camp, but I never would have guessed. Even with missing out on a few in-camp events, there were so many opportunities to go out of camp on adventures. For example, I went rafting, hiking, and whitewater kayaking. Those trips allowed me to gain skills, knowledge and memories that I’ll never forget.

That’s the spirit of Rockbrook, in my opinion. It’s not just about friends, the food, or the lake. It’s not all about the activities (even though they’re all very fun!) or who’s doing what. In my opinion, it’s all about the new skills, new emotions, and new memories that will last a lifetime.

Another thing about camp that I love is the inclusivity of camp. Everyone here is so open and welcoming of everyone else. For example, as a Hi-Up, we can go to any evening program. So I go to the Senior skits dressed in a full banana decor and no one bats an eye.

The camp spirit is unique too. It carries on even when a girl goes home. I’ve seen it from many people, including myself! Girls bring home the embracing nature of camp. They also bring back positivity and happiness along with new skills such as resolving simple conflicts with compromises, how to help reduce their fears, and how to help others with their confidence.

Camp is truly a magical place for me. When I arrived at camp, I jumped out of the car, smiled, and said, “I’m home!” Whether girls have been at Rockbrook for 5 years or 5 days. I can speak for the RBC community when I tell you that Rockbrook is our happy place. One of our favorite places on earth, but most importantly, our home away from home.

Claire Herrnstein

camp pasture hore ride

A Parent Perspective

I am the proud mother of a Rockbrook camper. This is my daughter’s second year at Rockbrook. For her first year, we decided to sign her up for the mini-session to see if summer camp was something she was going to enjoy. When we picked her up last summer, she let us know without hesitation that she was ready to go back for the full session, which is almost 3 weeks long. As I write this and reflect on what summer camp means to me as a parent, she is back at Rockbrook enjoying all that camp has to offer.

girl ready for summer camp

The moments leading up to camp drop-off are always emotional. This year, as we waited in the car line, I watched my daughter go back and forth between happiness and excitement (after all, she had been waiting for this all year!) to being nervous and anxious. She recognized the lake she had so much fun in last summer but then realized this meant we were getting closer to the drop-off point. After we unloaded her trunk and she realized it was time for us to say goodbye, she started to cry, just as she did the previous year. This year, however, she was not the only one; I also had some tears as we drove away from camp. 

Sending your child off to sleepaway camp is not easy. Aside from the obvious fact of how much I would miss her, there were lots of other things I worried about. Would she do a thorough job of brushing her teeth? Would she remember to put on sunscreen? Would she eat any vegetables over the next couple of weeks? More importantly, would she be able to fall asleep without the goodnight hugs and kisses from Mom and Dad that she was used to? Would she miss the nightly ritual of being tucked into her own bed? What would happen if she got homesick or felt left out? 

In the end, I know she will be fine. At Rockbrook, she is surrounded by an incredible staff trained to handle all types of situations and wonderful, caring counselors (many who were Rockbrook campers themselves!) who have secret tricks up their sleeves to help homesick campers. Not to mention, she is in a cabin full of friends who are also probably feeling a little sad about missing home. And, as she settles into camp life and I start to see photos of her smiling with her friends, I know I will be okay too. 

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that camp has so many benefits for children: the opportunity to try new activities, developing confidence and self-esteem, learning social skills, and building lifelong friendships. What you may not know is that camp can also benefit the parents. By sending my child to camp, I’ve learned that being a parent is more than handling the day-to-day stuff. Sometimes, it means stepping back and letting your child find their own way. At Rockbrook, my daughter gets to decide what activities she wants to sign up for, what food to put on her plate, and how to spend her free time. That is a great thing. If she gets homesick or has a bad day, she has to figure out how to deal with those feelings without me. And while the time apart is difficult, I know that when we are reunited, I will have so much respect and appreciation for my daughter for the amazing, brave, resilient, independent person she is. (I will also appreciate the steady stream of camp songs that usually follow in the days after camp!)

Earlier today, I listened to one of my favorite podcasts, This American Life. Coincidentally, this episode was all about summer camp. The host of the podcast, Ira Glass, talks about how there is a divide between “camp people” and “non-camp people.” Those that never went to summer camp can never fully understand the camp experience. He interviews a former camper-turned-counselor who says that all of the best moments of his life have either been at camp or with camp people. What a bold statement. He continues on to say that he would not be who he is if it wasn’t for camp. As a non-camp person, I may never understand what this means. But my daughter (and your daughters) will, and hopefully the experiences they have at Rockbrook will also become some of the “best moments” of their lives.

Jean Lee

happy summer camp girls

Want to Join Us?

Our first set of whitewater rafting trips for this camp session happened today. Bus and van loads of Middlers and Seniors, 60 in all, made the trek over to the Nantahala River to take a wet and wild ride. It’s now a deep tradition for Rockbrook girls to raft this popular river, one that we started way back in the 1980s. Rockbrook is fortunate to have a forest service permit allowing us to run trips without outside help, using our own gear and our own hand-picked guides. That makes a big difference to maintain the upbeat, friendly vibe of Rockbrook on these trips.

Of course rafting is exciting and fun— wearing the cool gear, riding in the raft with your friends, the shock of the “freezing” cold water, goofing around for the camera at different points along the trip, and the thrill of bumping and splashing through the rapids. We were lucky today to have excellent weather, warm and sunny skies keeping everything bright all day. This is the kind of outdoor adventure we love at Rockbrook— thrilling, funny, and packed with friends. Perfect!

camp 0% club poster

Here’s something I spotted on the bulletin board outside the dining hall. Can you tell what it is? It’s a flier announcing one of the many camper-led clubs at Rockbrook. Starting a club is something that’s caught on this summer for some reason. Anyone can start their own club. All you need is 2 or more people with a common interest, and then a time and place to meet. So far this session, girls have announced about a dozen of these clubs, each designed to invite others to join. During the announcements after meals, club members can come up and pitch the details of their club.

The 0% club is one of my favorites. It’s a club that invites people to show up with any kind of fear, and then working together, they reduce that fear to zero. “We will fix that !! 🙂 ” Isn’t that amazing!? Another is the “Finding Things” club. This one meets at the dining hall, and you can show up if you need to find a lost item. The members of the club team up and help you find it. This club fixes things too. Other clubs celebrate certain individuals, for example the “Sofie Society” and the “Ismini Club.” There’s a “Lima Bean” club for all those (and their like-minded allies) who “love lima beans.” There’s a “Space Club” for anyone who “cares about space.” There are clubs devoted to different book series like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, as well. We can only imagine the conversations that happen in each of these clubs.

I love the spirit of this club-creating phenomenon! It shows how the girls here understand the value of joining a group of people, of being open and accepting of new friends, and belonging to something with a shared interest or concern. They may not be able to tell you a deep reason why they are forming their club or why they enjoy doing so, but I think it’s a wonderful expression of our camp culture— enthusiastic, positive, inclusive, social, and little zany too.

I feel like all of us would benefit from joining the 0% club… but that’s another discussion.

Camp is a place where costumes are expected and celebrated. It’s common, in fact, for at least someone to be wearing something that transforms their look. It might be as simple as a pair of goofy sunglasses or hat with cat ears, or it can be a whole body banana suit, both of which I spotted earlier this week. We know that wearing a costume provides a special freedom of sorts. It allows a person to let an otherwise hidden aspect of their personality show. It’s a chance to parade something of yourself, or perhaps to expose your creativity, all just for the fun of it. Sometimes, we’ll dedicate an entire day to a costume theme, like today’s theme of “grannies.” All around camp, you could bump into folks who were more hunched over than usual, who seemed a little grey or who had a raspy sounding voice. People were wearing nightgowns, using walking canes, and a few seemed to have wigs. Many campers adopted names of their old lady personas. You could meet an Ethel, a Gertrude, and a Nellie today at camp.

Tonight’s evening program continued this theme by gathering everyone back in the dining hall for a rousing bingo tournament! Like all expert bingo players, the girls kept multiple cards up to date as Casey and Marston, our Bingo Matrons, spun the basket of labeled pingpong balls and announced the letter/number of each ball that emerged. We played Frank Sinatra, danced a bit, and had a grand time slowly filling our cards until someone shouted BINGO! That won a prize of some sort for the entire cabin group playing— cookies and milk, popcorn, or popsicles, for example. It was another example of Rockbrook girls being a little silly, playing a game together, laughing (a lot!), and enjoying the feeling camp.

First Feelings

The first day of activities at camp, what we might call a “regular day,” is definitely not regular for the girls who just arrived at camp. For the girls new to Rockbrook this is even more so. It’s the first day of experiencing some of the special aspects of camp life. It’s waking up in your cabin a little chilly (temps in the upper 60s) but to the sounds of chirping birds. It’s sitting in the dining hall with your cabin mates, eating a warm bowl of oatmeal with dried fruits, nuts, and granola. It’s heading to your first camp activity, one of the almost 30 options you selected. It’s finding out the surprise flavor of today’s freshly baked muffin served at “muffin break” (it was “funfetti.”). It’s encountering a surprisingly large bug on the fence at archery. It’s smelling the wood smoke at the campfire in WHOA, the outdoor skills activity. It’s learning the parts of a loom and giving weaving a try.

summer camp girl weaving

This is the first day when you can take a ride down the waterslide during the “Free Swim” period before lunch. And ride it again, and again. It’s the first day when you decide for yourself how to spend your free time… maybe playing tetherball with a few other girls from your line. It’s a regular day of other activities to try, so all over camp today there were girls happily climbing, tumbling, swimming, paddling, shooting arrows or rifles, hitting tennis balls and of course riding horses. Groups were riding the ziplines, tying and dying t-shirts, and just lounging in their crazy creek chairs on the hill. It’s a regular day that balances being active and being artistic, having free time and lots of things to choose to do. There’s time for rest and for play. It’s a day filled with laughter and friends. It’s very different from home, and packed with new, fun experiences all day long.

Because it’s so different from home though— different food, different sleeping setup, no parents, no electronic entertainment, for example —today can also at times be a day when a wave of homesickness hits. Especially during rest hour, that quiet time after lunch when girls often write letters home, their thoughts of home can become overwhelming and they can feel sad. It’s very common for campers to miss their family when they are away from home. Even seasoned campers feel a twinge of homesickness now and then.

It’s completely natural and healthy to miss home, just as it’s natural for parents to miss their children while they’re away at camp. But of course, being away at camp is full of rewards too, so the secret to recovering from homesickness is to lean into camp life, to get busy, and begin to experience some of its benefits. As campers adjust to camp life, finding themselves being even more excited to try new activities, spending more time with their camp friends, being more regularly engaged with the camp community, those waves of homesickness become smaller and less frequent. Being at camp over several days inspires greater courage to overcome the challenges that make camp a place to grow.

The caring and supportive community of Rockbrook make it a wonderful place to work through feelings of homesickness, too. More than likely, with time and some encouragement, girls refocus on the fun of camp and begin to enjoy their newfound independence and confidence. It can take time, but it’s amazing to see that transformation arise!

Today was a day filled with first feelings, a complex array of real world experiences, thrills and adventures. You should be proud of your girls! They are doing great at camp, and I predict they’ll continue to grow more comfortable and confident as the session unfolds.

summer kids art class

Ready is the Word

Today was the day when the girls attending our third session of the summer could finally begin their long awaited time at Rockbrook. Beginning at 8:15 am or so and continuing throughout the morning, girls and their parents (and sometimes their dogs too) lined up and drove through our check-in sequence patiently tolerating each step of the process. It was obvious to me that this last bit of waiting in line was torturous for the girls given how long they’d had already been waiting for this day, some waiting for months or even a whole year for this. Thankfully the line kept steadily moving and soon the girls were meeting their counselors on the hill.

summer camp friends arrival

It’s a big deal to get ready for camp. There’s all the health forms, the covid testing and protocols (Thank you for doing that!), the packing, and the travel —all of these take a lot of planning and effort. Meanwhile, the campers have visions of camp in their heads —all the new people they’ll meet, the different activities they’re looking forward to trying, and the surprise events they know are coming. There’s a lot to be excited about, especially when it’s been building all summer long.

No wonder we saw girls literally vibrating with excitement, sometimes nervous excitement, but clearly jittery, wide-eyed and happy this day had arrived. These girls were ready! They were ready to get all this preliminary stuff out of the way, to stop just thinking about camp, and to finally get started doing it.

When they met their counselors at the last stop of the arrival process, each camper received a name tag made from a slice of mountain laurel and strung on a piece of lanyard. It starts out simple, but we encourage the girls to personalize their name tags adding nicknames, beads and other decorations that they might desire. Some can get quite elaborate! This summer the campers also receive a purple lanyard and clip so they can keep a mask handy. Especially at the beginning of the session, we are asking everyone to wear a mask when they are inside a building (except in their own sleeping cabin where masks aren’t necessary). We’re hopeful that our pre-camp COVID screening has been successful keeping the virus out of camp, but in case we were not 100% successful, masking like this will help minimize the spread of an infection if one should crop up. We hope to be able to relax these standards as the session unfolds.

summer camp swimming dive

After a fantastic comfort food lunch (homemade mac-n-cheese, salad and cool fresh watermelon), the age groups took turns touring the camp, meeting with their Lineheads, and heading to the lake for the “swim demos.” The tours are especially fun for the new campers because they learn about the major buildings in camp (dining hall, health hut, gym, office, etc.) as well as the different activity areas (archery and riflery ranges, climbing tower, tennis courts, nature nook, etc.). For the returning campers, the tours are another chance to chat and get to know the other girls in the cabin, and really to begin to settle down into the rhythm of camp.

It being so hot and sunny today (not record heat for us, but still close to 90 degrees), most everyone was happy to have a chance to jump in the lake this afternoon. Our “swim demos” are our introduction to the lake, and when the lifeguards assess how comfortable each camper is swimming in our chilly mountain lake. Showing you can jump off the dock, go under water, swim confidently and tread water for a minute are what we ask each camper to do for the swim demo. Campers who can’t do all of this comfortably can still enjoy using the lake, but we will limit access to the certain parts of the lake or ask they wear a lifejacket as appropriate. These are the summer days when the lake is very popular. For everyone!

Summer camp teens sitting on a rock

This photo helps summarize the feeling of camp at the moment. It shows a cabin group hanging out after the swim demo, chatting and getting to know each other. I think it shows a little bit of awkwardness, but also the beginnings of friendships. This makes good sense for a group that’s been here only a few hours. I’ve found it can sometimes take a little time for the girls to loosen up and relax, both new and returning campers alike. Coming to camp is a big change from life at home, and it simply can take a little getting used to. It can take some time to dig into the activities (we’ll launch right into that tomorrow), to understand that folks at camp are genuine and nice (no posing necessary), to realize that this is a place where it’s easy to be included. It often takes a few days to understand the rhythms of camp and to become more confident away from parents.

But I can tell we’re off to a great start, and whatever awkwardness is lingering at the moment will certainly fade. There are more stories to be shared, natural wonders to explore, new activities to try, and fun surprises to experience this session. There are more smiles on the way!