A Rainy, Sunny, Silly Night

Riflery is another activity that has been a part of Rockbrook since its founding almost 100 years ago. Learning the safety protocols and techniques for target shooting was a camp skill of sorts, something everyone learned, just like hiking, swimming and weaving, for example. Even today, most campers enjoy making their way down to the shooting range to fire our .22 caliber rifles. The girls shoot prone, aiming at their targets 50 feet away. The goal, of course, is to center their shots and hit a bullseye, being accurate with 5 shots per round. Getting all five shots within the concentric rings of the target is really good shooting. Every center shot earns the shooter a place in the bullseye club and her name announced in the dining hall.

beads necklace

Take a look at these painted ceramic beads, strung as a necklace and proudly worn around camp. They represent several ways this camper has been recognized as exemplary. The counselors nominate campers for these beads, and they are announced during the weekly assemblies. The one that says “Bend-A-Back” is awarded to campers who are seen helping another person around camp, or assisting the camp in some way, like picking up a stray piece of trash. “Ps & Qs” recognizes a camper for outstanding manners, usually in the dining hall. The central bead with the cardinal on it is especially meaningful. It’s the “Spirit” bead and it is given to those campers who are simply great Rockbrook Girls showing their love and enthusiasm for camp.

sliding rock children

Tonight we took our full session Seniors to Sliding Rock. We started out with a fun picnic of hotdogs, watermelon and chips up in the forest, and afterwards made our way to the natural water slide to give everyone a chance to take the plunge. It’s a huge thrill for the girls to sit down in the chilly water at the top and scream as they make the slide down to the pool at the bottom. Just as we all finished our first slide down the rock, it began to rain, so we made a quick dash back to the buses and vans. Fortunately, everyone had a chance to slide at least once before the rain. Of course, a stop at Dolly’s Dairy Bar completed our night with a delicious cone of ice cream. After they finished eating, the girls had a wonderful time singing camp songs to all the other Dolly’s customers. To everyone’s surprise on the way home, we spotted a complete rainbow in the sky over Brevard. It was a rainy, sunny, silly night in the mountains of North Carolina.  So fun!

girls camp uniforms

Answering Questions

Today we all felt the thrill of opening a new session of camp. The Rockbrook cabin counselors, specialist activity instructors, and directors all assembled for the third time this summer to welcome a new bunch of enthusiastic girls to the “heart of a wooded mountain.” It was a gorgeous morning, cool and foggy, when we opened the gate for cars to make their way up the gravel driveway, and the check-in process to begin unfolding. Once again, there was more eagerness than uncertainty, more excitement than apprehension, on the girls’ faces when they arrived for their session. These girls weren’t hesitating though; they were ready to jump right into life at camp. As the sun warmed up the morning, and the last few parents made their way back to the parking area, we could finally get things started, our patient anticipation finally satisfied. Camp!

Girls dressed as twins at summer camp
laughing swimming girls

The rest of the day we started answering questions, all kinds of questions. Already, we learned where our cabin was located, who were the other girls in our cabin (a mix of old and new friends!), and who our counselors would be for the next few weeks. At the assembly on the hill, we met this session’s line heads, directors, Hi-Ups, and camp dog Felix. We learned, or had our memories clarified, about the camp song, what to do when we hear the camp bell or the lightning warning horn.

At lunch, we had our dining hall questions answered: Where does our cabin sit? What can we find on the salad bars? Where are the vegetarian and gluten-free options, the peanut butter and jelly station, the extra fruit, and supply of milk? What happens when the Hi-Ups ring their bell and begin singing a funny camp song? Who makes the announcements at the end of the meal, and what is that wheel on the wall? How do we clean our tables and take care of the dishes at the end of meals?

Our afternoon was filled with tours of the camp, a chance for everyone to take a dip in the lake to demonstrate their swimming ability, and an assembly in the gym for a series of counselor skits presenting the different activities available at camp this session. We found out how refreshingly cool the lake feels, where the activities meet around camp, and which staff members will be teaching the various activities. It was exciting to learn, for example, that the camp musical this session will be the Little Mermaid and that auditions for specific parts would begin on Monday.

Parents may have questions too— How do I send my daughter an email? Where can I see the daily photos of camp? What do I do if I receive a troubling letter about her feeling homesick at times? All of these questions (and more!) are answered in the parents section of our Web site, but you can always give our office a call to talk with someone too.

It’s been a great opening day, the girls already adjusting to the rhythms of camp. All of this energy ready to launch, we’re set for an excellent few weeks!

sunny day swimming at camp

Totally Groovy

70s party decorations
camp 1970s costume party

Can you dig it? Yesterday’s banquet really showed us how girl power can be a peace-loving, psychedelic, disco party of good vibes as our 9th graders unveiled their surprise theme: “That 70’s Banquet.” Weeks in the planning, the girls dug deep into the style, music, and slang of the 1970s to decorate the dining hall, dress in amazing costumes, and perform choreographed dance numbers for the whole camp. Every inch of wall space was covered with painted posters depicting iconic 70s references: Charlie’s Angels, Scooby Doo, Queen, Disco Dancing, Elton John, Richard Nixon, ABBA, and Wonder Woman, for example. The walls were a rainbow of tie-dye colors, with balloons, lights and streamers strung through the rafters.

With the girls dressed as different artists, we saw amazing performances by Freddie Mercury, Josie and the Pussycats, Donna and the Dynamos, along with Go-Go dancers, hippies, and roller skaters. The girls served dinner throughout the party: “peaceful popcorn,” “groovy grapes,” “trippy tortellini,” “chill out chicken,” with “watergate water.”

Naturally, the whole evening was also a chance for everyone to dance to 1970s music, with a few contemporary pop hits mixed in. There were moments were I’d guess we had more than 200 campers and counselors all up dancing and getting down. It was a totally groovy night!  Completely far out!

Little Mermaid Camp Musical

This afternoon, we all were thrilled to watch the performance of “The Little Mermaid.” This was a huge endeavor, to produce from scratch a complete musical. About 50 campers participated in some fashion to paint scenery, design costumes, perform a singing or speaking role, join the ensemble or work on the tech crew. The girls rehearsed during their drama activity time over the session, honing their parts, and now putting on an incredible show. They seemed so excited to be performing, having a great time on stage. Lindsay brought the house down when she sang “Part of Your World” with everyone stunned by her singing talent, and Ella, playing Sebastian, likewise impressed the crowd with her version of “Under the Sea.” In just a few short weeks, these girls put on an spectacular show!

Finally, we closed the session with our traditional campfire ceremony, what we call our “Spirit Fire.” This was a beautiful time together, all dressed in our uniforms, huddled shoulder to shoulder around a warm, glowing campfire.  We sang some of the more thoughtful camp songs, heard short speeches about what Rockbrook has meant to us over the session, and simply held tightly to our camp friends by our side.  It was an emotional time for most of us, knowing that we would be saying goodbye in the morning. It’s hard when something this good, something this important to us, has to end for another summer.

This has been a wonderful session… really great girls, kind, generous and enthusiastic. It’s no wonder the friendships formed here are so strong, so genuine, and so meaningful.  It’s no wonder these girls love camp.  Thank you everyone for being a part of this magical community.

camp girls with braids

2nd Session Video Note – Part Three

We’ve got another highlights video!

It’s the latest from Robbie Francis of Go Swan Filmworks. Late last week, Robbie spent a day filming at camp, and with his careful editing, has again produced a fascinating glimpse into camp life. You’ve seen the photos in our daily online gallery; now see (and hear) camp in action.

At less than 2 minutes, I think you’ll really enjoy watching.

Click here for the video. Or see below.

A Kind of Delirious Abandon

kid in canoe on camping trip

There’s a long history of Rockbrook girls spending time canoeing on the French Broad River.  We have photos from the 1930s of campers and their boats in the river. In fact, the camp has about 3/4 of a mile of shoreline on the French Broad not far from its true start in Rosman where two smaller streams come together. Once it passes Rockbrook, the French Broad flows north toward Asheville, continuing to form the Tennessee River, which feeds the Ohio River, finally becoming the Mississippi. In addition to beginner kayaking trips, Rockbrook takes girls canoeing on sections of the river, like for example last night when 12 girls and 2 staff members packed camping gear to paddle and then stop for the night part way through. As the river winds its way through valley farmlands, low trees and bushes line the banks revealing views of the nearby mountains from time to time. There are designated camping spots, usually grassy areas along the river, where groups can pull up their boats and pitch tents.  Our girls, as they have for almost 100 years in this valley, had a great time at their campsite playing games after dinner and watching a gorgeous sunset. The weather was likewise perfectly pleasant making the whole trip a grand time out.

The surprise muffin flavor today was mind boggling: chocolate chip cookie dough. It began with a regular chocolate chip muffin, baked to a perfect light brown with a moist crumb. That would have been delicious alone, but what pushed it over the top was the small chunk of cookie dough on top of each muffin. Needless to say, the whole camp was thrilled to bite into one these special treats.

One way the girls at Rockbrook express their enthusiasm, creativity and silly nature is by dressing up. Today was declared “Under the Sea Day,” so we had fun decorating the dining hall with ocean-related banners, searching the camp for a hidden “Nemo” and “Dori,” and creating costumes to wear all around the camp, to meals and activities. There was an octopus playing tennis, a shark lifeguard at the lake, and a scuba girl working at pottery.  It was another day proving that costumes really do make things more fun— funny and fun!

Shaving Cream Kids Camp

The funniest event of the day, though, happened after dinner down on the sports field. It was a wild shaving cream fight for anyone brave enough to get this messy. Girls of all ages, yes even the teenagers, showed up wearing swimsuits ready to smear and be smeared. This kind of delirious abandon— running, squirting, laughing uncontrollably —is simply extraordinary. You’ve never seen girls so elated, and so many of them at once! We had a couple of hoses set up to rinse off a bit as necessary, like when some mischievous friend splatters a handful of the white stuff in your ear or some gets in your mouth. The slip and slide we had set up was also really fun when covered in the slippery foam. It doesn’t take long to empty 150 cans of shaving cream, but the fun doesn’t stop there. There are creative hairstyles to fashion, messages to write on your belly, and photos to take with friends.

It’s no surprise these Rockbrook girls are quick to say, “I love camp!”

So Many Fabulous Options

camper teach girl to tie climbing rope know

Our morning began as any normal day does at camp… with a hot breakfast filled with lots of singing and enthusiasm! As the day went on, though, the campers were given different opportunities to challenge themselves by choice! A few of the trips that were offered today were up to our own zip line course, kayaking and canoeing trips out to the Nolichucky and French Broad rivers, and a hike to Quentin Falls! With so many fabulous options, it again became tricky for our campers to choose what they wanted to do most. Trips set out and the rest of our girls settled into their activities. Here at Rockbrook, our girls get to choose which activities they want to take for their three-day activity rotations. The night before a new rotation, girls head to their cabins while counselors come around signing them up for the four activities of their choice.

Throughout the day girls worked on looms, made colorful jelly soaps, threw different sized creations on the potter’s wheel, and rehearsed for our end-of-the-session camp play! No matter which activities the girls were in, they were fully invested! For Twilight this evening, we also had a variety of counselor-led events in which the girls could participate. First, there were games of pickleball going on at our new pickleball courts! Girls from different lines came down and tried a new sport. They all enjoyed trying something new and even improved their skills. Next, we had a guided meditation session in the Junior Lodge. After a long and busy day, sometimes it’s nice to sit back and reflect. Girls grabbed a yoga mat, sat down, closed their eyes, and listened to soft words spoken by one of our fabulous counselors.

girls wrapping yarn for weaving

The last option offered was a Zumba class in the gym! Once again, girls from different lines followed the fun dance moves lead by another one of our talented counselors. On top of all of these fun events, there were still some girls playing in the creek, rolling down the hill, and reading on the porch of the Hillside Lodge.

To wrap up the night, the girls got to work on the Carrier Pigeon for evening program. The Carrier Pigeon has been a Rockbrook tradition since at least 1924. With Rockbrook’s 100 year birthday coming up in just 2 years, Sarah Carter and camp mom Marie Brown have been hard at work looking over precious Rockbrook history. The Carrier Pigeon is sent to campers every winter and features a variety of photos throughout the summer. In the old Carrier Pigeons, girls would receive theirs at the end of the summer and it would feature literary work from many girls who attended camp. This year we are trying to incorporate more literary works, such as songs and narratives, into our 2019 Carrier Pigeon.

Girls all over camp spent time tonight reflecting on their camp experiences at this sleep away camp called Rockbrook. They were given a pen and paper along with the freedom to write about whatever they wanted. Girls excitedly turned in their work wondering if they will see it featured in the Carrier Pigeon come winter.

That Peculiar Sense of Adventure

Two of the most popular activities at camp are the shooting sports, archery and riflery. Most of the girls at camp are eager to try these traditional sports at least once during their session. Each has pretty cool equipment— real guns and real arrows! Each is novel and challenging but also achievable, with an inherent satisfaction (hitting the target). Also, both archery and riflery are skills the girls learn quite quickly, seeing real progress in their abilities after only a few days. They are so excited when their scores improve with practice, and when they shoot a bullseye, it’s a huge thrill! There’s a bullseye club for each sport too, and whenever a girl shoots one, the staff announces her name to the whole camp during a meal. And finally, there’s a long tradition at Rockbrook of the girls challenging the boys of Camp Carolina to an archery, riflery and tennis tournament at the end of the session. The top shooters join the RBC archery or riflery teams for the friendly competition. There’s a lot to like about the shooting sports at Rockbrook.

I saw a news story reporting that more than “70 million Americans are expected to endure temperatures above 95 degrees in next 7 days.” Yikes! Rockbrook, thankfully, has been spared that kind of heat thanks to our elevation and northwestern-facing location. If you take a look at our weather station, you can see that we are enjoying a normal summer of upper 60s at night and mid 80s during the day. Camp in the mountains of North Carolina is great!

girls holding up tie-dye t-shirts they made

We’ve seen the unveiling of incredible craft projects lately. These tie-dyed t-shirts, for example, are one of the best I’ve ever seen… swirls of deep color, each with a unique pattern. The same is true for pottery as the first kiln firings are being completed. Here too, it’s exciting to see how the process of finishing the pots combines with varying techniques of glazing to reveal a surprise work of art. The fiber arts cabin is producing especially amazing pieces. The girls are using all the the looms, from the wide floor looms to the lap looms, and showing real skill and creativity as they work on their weavings.

friends going down sliding rock

Just looking at Sliding Rock is intriguing. After all, it’s a natural water slide formed by Looking Glass Creek as it flows over 60 feet of a dome-shaped rock and into a pool at the bottom. From a distance it’s even inviting. It looks fun for people to slide down. But standing at the top of the slide, the “refreshing” water splashing on the back of your legs, and looking down, it can be a little frightening too. Tonight when we brought all of the mini session Middlers and Seniors, you could see it in their eyes, that peculiar sense of adventure that combines uncertainty, physical challenge, and excitement, all in a beautiful natural setting. The water level tonight was a little higher than normal, so this made the sliding even more of an acceleration toward the plunge at the bottom. The girls had a complete blast sliding several times (some went down six times!) until it was time to drive out of the forest for our final stop of the evening, Dolly’s Dairy Bar. If you don’t know about Dolly’s you will when you hear from your daughter. We take everyone at Rockbrook to this local ice cream stand at least once during their session. It’s that good. Most of our girls will be happy to tell you it’s the “best ice cream on earth.” Perhaps a quick stop at Dolly’s would be a good idea when you pick up your girls from camp. I guarantee that will be a welcome suggestion! 🙂

two girls waving before sliding rock

The Delightful Nurturing

Whitewater rafting girls on the Nantahala falls

The Nantahala River today provided another perfect day of whitewater rafting for the Middlers and Seniors who just arrived at camp. We offered the trip to everyone, and probably 90% of the girls old enough were excited to spend the day paddling and splashing their way down the river. Our fantastic rafting guides arrived at the put in early to prepare the rafting equipment so that when the vans and buses of campers arrived, it took very little time to suit up (PFD, helmet, and paddle) and hear the safety instructions for the trip. Those instructions answer the girls’ questions about where to sit in the boat, what to do when you fall out of the boat, how to be rescued with a throw rope, and the whitewater swim position. Today the weather was hot a sunny all day, making both the morning and afternoon groups enjoy even more the cold water of the river.  For example, an entire raft of girls decided at one point to jump out into the river at the same time, leaving just the guide in the boat! There are almost 20 named rapids along this stretch of the Nantahala, but the highlight of the trip is the final rapid called the “Nantahala Falls,” a class III double drop. This is a heart-pounding, eye-popping, scream-inducing thrill that always elicits cheers when the boats make it through successfully. This photo (and others in the online gallery) gives you a sense of what it’s like.

Meanwhile back at camp, there was a lot going on!  Every building, every activity area, and even spaces in between, had groups of girls busy creating, joyfully playing, and engaging all the opportunities to try new things.  And on the other hand, the daily schedule at Rockbrook provides regular times where the girls can slow down a little, rest, relax and explore as their mood and interests might inspire. Mixed in are times for nourishment, like an apple or peach grabbed on the go from the dining hall porch, or everyone’s favorite, a freshly baked muffin (Today’s flavor was divine… cranberry, white chocolate chip!) served mid-morning. There’s time to soak in the natural beauty of the forested mountain, trees and flowers, and the running creeks that surround us at camp.

So much of this, so much of what life at camp requires, involves self-regulation by the girls. Many times throughout the day, the girls themselves make decisions about what they would like to do (float in a tube at the lake during free swim or read a book in one of the porch rocking chairs, for example). Likewise for their scheduled activities, would they like to spend time being creative tie-dying a t-shirt, getting a little sweaty playing dodgeball in the gym, or feeling their feet tingle high up on a rock face during a climb? Should they pay attention to the drizzle-threatening clouds, to the cricket in their cabin, to how many days it’s been since their last shower, and to their score in riflery?  What will they do when they feel tired, or a little too hyper, or maybe frustrated for some reason. How will they behave when it’s time to help with cabin chores, when their friend didn’t receive any mail and they got 5 letters, or when their cabin mates are arguing about who plays what role in an evening program skit?

Back in 2015, researchers at the University of Chicago published a report summarizing decades of theory and research drawn from the fields of youth development and education, and describing what children need to achieve “success” in life. Rather than academic skills, they identified four “foundational components” which underlie a child’s ability to fulfill his or her goals, influence the world around them, and have a clear sense of who they are. These four components are:

  • Self-regulation: the awareness of oneself and one’s surroundings, and management of one’s attention, emotions and behaviors to achieve goals.
  • Knowledge and Skills: information or understanding about oneself, other people and the world, and the ability to carry out tasks.
  • Mindsets: beliefs and attitudes about oneself, the world and the interaction between the two, which serve as the lenses through which individuals process everyday experiences.
  • Values: enduring, often culturally defined beliefs about what is good or bad and what one thinks is important in life.

If you are interested in this sort of thing, in thinking about the core foundations of child and youth development, there is a great infographic summarizing the report that I would highly recommend. For now, I hope it is clear why I bring it up; I believe a sleepaway camp like Rockbrook is a fantastic context to gain the sort of developmental experiences that bolster all four of these components. In addition to self-regulation, camp provides opportunities for practice and reflection on beliefs and values as they relate to the world and others. It offers numerous opportunities to gain knowledge and skills, and ultimately to develop a strong sense of self defined by “healthy relationships and a meaningful place within a community.”

This is the youth development work that takes place at summer camp. It hints at the invaluable learning that takes place here amid the zany, colorful fun.  We know that girls love camp— just ask; they’ll tell you! Camp is also delightfully nurturing in these very important ways. It’s fun that matters.

Deeply Satisfying

welcome to rockbrook

This was an exciting Sunday morning because it marked the beginning of our second July mini session. It meant the arrival of about 90 campers eager to start their camp experience. The staff woke early to be ready, so when the cars began driving up the gravel driveway we had an absolute mob of enthusiastic counselors cheering and greeting each car. It was a quick check-in process —office, riding interview, nurse check, swag store, and hair exam— and by 10:30am, we had most of the new session girls settled in their cabins. For several, there was time to visit Rockbrook Falls, one of the waterfalls on the camp property. It’s only about half a mile from the center of camp, and the trail leading there is pleasantly flat (mostly!) and a beautiful, meandering walk through the forest. Visiting this waterfall is a perfect first activity after arriving at camp. It gives girls a chance to soak in the environment a bit, ask questions about camp, shake out a few jitters, and get to know the other people hiking with them. It’s also an magnificent destination.

Around noon, the entire camp assembled under the walnut tree on the hill for a program of introductions, songs, awards, and skits. We sang the line songs, awarded cabin groups with the excellent inspection scores, and recognized girls with extraordinary camp spirit. Casey and Audrey performed a short skit about going to sleep in a camp cabin and the importance of staying quiet a night. Lunch was again deeply satisfying: tray after tray of Rick’s homemade mac-n-cheese, salad and fresh fruit. With no less than 4 types of cheese, and baked to that perfect gooey center and crunchy top layer, it’s always a huge hit.

mad scientist campers

Our all-camp afternoon event turned to science for its inspiration: a “Mad Science” Fair of experiments, games, and challenges. Counselors and Hi-Ups led the different activity stations. There was a “Green Team Quiz” game, a challenge to make a parachute, a chance to concoct sticky “Oobleck,” and a return of the “watermelon explosion” rubber band challenge. One of the more popular options was the Buoyancy test. The girls had to build a boat, something that floats, using only aluminum foil. Then they tested each person’s buoyant craft by adding fishing weights until it sank. The winner was able to hold 26 weights! With snacks and music, and plenty of lab coats, goggles and mustaches, the girls zipped between activity stations having fun and learning a little science along the way.

Before dinner there was time for everyone to visit the lake for a swim if they desired. There are two of these “free swim” periods most days: one before lunch and the other before dinner. After being active around camp, zipping, riding, climbing, hiking, or shooting for example, the cool water of the lake is also a deeply satisfying experience. Swim, float, jump off the diving board, or shoot down the water slide— there’s a way to set your own pace at the lake.

This is going to be an excellent week of camp.  Stay tuned!

A Sense of Place

horse riding camper girl

These past few days, between the two July mini sessions, have allowed the full-session campers to dig deeper into various activities and spend a little more time honing their skills and knowledge of techniques. For example, down closer to the French Broad river where Rockbrook’s Riding Center is located, our young equestrians have been riding and working up to more advanced skills. The covered arena with its engineered footing (2 types of polyester fibers blended with a fine silica sand, and kept moist with regular watering) has been an ideal place for setting up cross rails and other vertical jumps for the girls. Some of the more popular horses, like Smoke, Snoopy and Rodin, have been working on the jumps with the girls. These are horses that train throughout the year at St. Andrew’s University, and are very good at trotting and cantering over poles, as well as experienced jumpers. They know exactly what to do when their rider approaches a jump, eager to clear it. It’s wonderful to see the smile on the girls’ faces as they zoom over the jumps.

counselor and camper working on weaving

The same is true for adventure activities. Climbers ventured off-camp to Looking Glass Rock for a day working on the climb called B-52, while kayakers tackled the more advanced section of the Green River. Even in the craft activities, the weavers finished edges, t-shirts were dyed with a new pattern, and the pottery folks learned more about throwing on the wheel. The friendship bracelet patterns are becoming more complex and the needlecraft projects more intricate.

On the other hand, these few days also seemed to take on a slightly more relaxed pace of life. With added familiarity came greater comfort, making moments of free time feel great. We seem to be hanging out more naturally and simply enjoying each other’s company. Instead of a race, we’ve discovered a sense of place. Instead of a goal, we’re taking a leisurely stroll.

jug band campfire

Tonight’s evening program was an all-camp campfire, but one with a silly theme— Jug Band. Inspired by aspects of Appalachian culture, but along the lines of the old TV show “Hee Haw,” the campers and counselors dressed in their mountain attire (flannels, overalls, bandannas), tied their hair in pigtails, and in some cases painted freckles on their cheeks. Even Sarah arrived dressed as “Sayrry,” a mountain granny wearing a long dress, carrying a walking stick, and a pet (rubber) rattlesnake. The program included group songs, skits, and folks taking turns telling jokes. We sang “Rocky Top,” “Sippin’ Cider,” “Mountain Dew,” “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain,” and others. There was a skit performed to the “Rooster Song.” All along, the girls played improvised “musical” instruments like shakers, cans, and other things to tap or bang. For jokes, we heard that you call a pig that knows karate “Pork Chop” and when a horse is being negative it’s a real neigh-sayer. With a nice campfire glowing with orange flames and the whole camp gathered around, it was a fun and amusing evening.