What Home Really Is

As second session girls prepared to depart, they wrote many of their thoughts about camp down for Spirit Fire. Girls from every line are invited to speak in front of the rest of the camp about what this summer at Rockbrook has meant to them. These speeches were particularly thoughtful; as such a long and beautiful session ended, sincere sentiments were met with smiles and tears as the girls prepared to leave. Although it is now third session, it seems like a great time to share this poem that two campers created and read at the end of second session spirit fire. I expect that all girls who have ever been to Rockbrook (or who are coming for the first time) will be able to relate to it.

Easy Time at the Lake
IMG_4992

It’s hard to explain what home really is.

Your friends at school,
Your group, your clique,
Pressure getting A’s,
Pressure fitting in:
Perfect.

The love and care from mom and dad,
The entertainment from brothers and sisters
A variety of choices
From restaurants to malls:
The usual.

It’s hard to explain what home really is.

Your friends in your cabin,
A fun group, but not a clique
The pressure fitting in is not as much of a challenge
Growing, learning to be myself:
To be my type of perfect.

Love and care from counselors and directors,
Entertainment from the hi-ups and CA’s, our role models
A variety of choices:
Adventures, activities, creativity:
Not the usual,
Once a year…

But home.

How can two places, so special, so different, still be home?
Stripped away from air conditioning, electronics, and carpeted floors?

Home away from luxury–
More alive,
More real…

It’s hard to explain what home really is.
I guess we all have two.

Written for Second Session Spirit Fire by Karma B. and Sam H.

IMG_4921
IMG_3751
IMG_2972

If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?

One of the things [Uncle Alex] found objectionable about human beings was that they so rarely noticed it when they were happy. He himself did his best to acknowledge it when times were sweet. We could be drinking lemonade in the shade of an apple tree in the summertime, and Uncle Alex would interrupt the conversation to say, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

So I hope that you will do the same for the rest of your lives. When things are going sweetly and peacefully, please pause a moment, and then say out loud, “If this isn’t nice, what is?” -Kurt Vonnegut

Girl Camp Swimming

Girls savored today as it was the last normal day of camp. Tomorrow, we have banquet, and the day after is the play and Spirit Fire. Today brought us opportunities to finish mermaid laps and Rockbrook running miles. It was a day to give away friendship bracelets and to relish the simplicity of talking to a circle of good friends in front of the cabin.

We have been at camp for quite awhile at this point, and with the end looming so close, I wanted to step back and consider those moments where all is well with the world. These are not the big moments that might stand out in our minds when we think of camp, but the little ones where everything is just going right. There are so many small and beautiful moments at camp, but they happen so quickly that if we don’t acknowledge them, we can take them for granted. We live good lives at camp, and when I zoomed out my perspective, I began to consider the small moments of loveliness that I can overlook after spending many days in this wonderful place.

At camp, we live in a world where…

  1. A fresh-baked muffin greets us every mid-morning. We ate fresh-baked, cinnamon apple muffins that were still warm from the oven. We get a new muffin flavor every day, which makes the rainiest days cozy and gives all of us a little extra warmth from the bakers. It’s a social time, too, as the news of the muffin flavor travels up and down hills and girls bring muffins to their friends who are in hard-to-reach places. I think that starting the day with a muffin makes the day that much better.
  2. We spend all day playing outside and learning new things. Sometimes, we become so caught up in exactly what an activity is doing every day that we forget that we are spending our days playing. What kind of day could be more incredible than one that includes kayaking on a lake, making a pinch pot, and hiking to Castle Rock…all within about six hours? These are days lived fully, where we appreciate every ounce of free time we have.
  3. Camp Girl Friends
    Girl Archer at camp
    Our best friends are our neighbors and we all like each other and are the kind of neighbors who would gladly lend a cup of sugar (or a pair of shoes or costume)! Each line forms a beautiful community of girls who are comfortable with each other. At this point, every cabin has girls from other cabins popping in and out of it; the cabins are much more cohesive than they were three short weeks ago. It is so convenient to be surrounded by good friends all of the time, always ready for a game of cards or a walk to the camp store. The counselors know all of the campers on their line, and when we gather together, there is a feeling of community that encompasses the entire room.
  4. We can choose how to spend our free time and we engage fully throughout that free time. Today, I played tennis with a camper during a free swim, and we had a great time practicing strokes and improving our skills. Many of the girls in my cabin ran with Rockbrook Runners. Then, for another free swim, we took a cabin hike to Castle Rock, a huge rock face that overlooks camp. Sometimes, free time will include One Direction dance parties or badminton tournaments. This time is not always so structured, but if anyone has an idea, we try our hardest to make it happen. We value this time and we try to make the most of it, even on the days that means relaxing and talking to friends on the porch.
  5. We are explorers of the world (or at least Western North Carolina), and we never know what we are going to run into! Our corner of the world is filled with animals and vegetation. The juniors teach the rest of us to explore the world–they are constantly sticking their feet in the creek looking for salamanders and skinks. Other girls decide that they want to romp around the forest and see waterfalls. Camp give us the place, the tools, and the friends to explore the world and teaches us to be more observant.

As these girls prepare to leave and we begin to reflect on what distinguishes camp from the rest of the world, I think these are five things that we have really been doing at camp. To cap off a beautiful day, I went to the Rockbrook Garden with a small group of campers. We showed each other the zesty verbena plant, plucked some strawberries off the vine, and smelled the gentle lavender plant. I realized that at Rockbrook, there are so many moments where I just need to step back and sigh, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

Happy Nice Camper

A Place for Hands

There’s a certain manual character of life at camp. Given all of the activities we have going on simultaneously, the community living structuring our days, and the constant outdoor experience, camp is a setting where we use our hands constantly. We’re doing things, making things, and exploring things with our hands everyday. Sweeping the dining hall, tying a climbing rope, gripping a tennis racket, steadying a ball of clay on the potter’s wheel— all that and more can happen before breakfast! …not to mention, pulling back the string of a bow, tying embroidery floss into an intricate pattern, smacking a tetherball or gagaball, steering the reins of a horse. Camp life is defined by action, by direct inter-action with the physical— all five senses! —nature of the real world, and thereby provides almost limitless opportunities to engage things with our hands.

I think this is a significant benefit of camp because modern life, with its “conveniences” and “processing,” has made working with our hands less common and made hand skills less important. Perhaps, like spending time in nature, it’s good for us, and for our children, to do things with our hands. Maybe, this kind of “manual engagement” with the physical world is a core aspect of what makes us human, and it’s at great expense that we give it up.

If so, then that means our kids need chances to work with their hands. And I don’t mean pushing buttons or swiping the screen of a smart phone! Just the opposite; they need what camp provides— daily connections with the physical (and natural) world.

We might go so far as to say this manual character of camp helps explain why kids find life here so novel and fun. When their ordinary lives are limited by polished products, buffered by climate controlled spaces, and abstracted by technology, it feels really good, it —feels — refreshing to dig in with their hands. It probably means getting a little dirty, and maybe ending up with a couple of bruises and scrapes, but that’s simply part of living this fully.  This is another way that camp differs from ordinarily living, and I would claim, another reason why it’s so gratifying.

Camp is a place for our hands. And, that’s really good stuff.

Rockbrook camp girls outside

Redbirds, Jitters, & Camp Camaraderie

By Chrissy Swartz, Waterfront Director

A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver

All night my heart makes its way
however it can over the rough ground
of uncertainties, but only until night
meets and then is overwhelmed by
morning, the light deepening, the
wind easing and just waiting, as I
too wait (and when have I ever been
disappointed?) for redbird to sing.

Was Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver a Rockbrook girl? She certainly could have been, given her delicate writings and musings on nature and its beauty. I was shocked when I came across this poem recently while reading a collection of her poems at camp since the redbird is such a traditional symbol of Rockbrook. Immediately I related A Thousand Mornings to life at RBC—especially to the feelings of excitement and hesitation that the first few days of camp bring.

pottery class at summer camp

Breakfast on this first full day of camp is always full of cautious energy. The campers, counselors, and activity instructors are all raring to go. As soon as breakfast ends the camp leaps into full swing. The girls head off to their activities, and it feels like Second Session has officially begun. Once again camp is filled with the sounds of children playing in different areas of camp, their laughter floating above the lake all the way up the hill.

girls playing with balloons in the lake

Soon the nervous butterflies and hesitations disappear as the girls chat at muffin break about their first activity period. Everyone has a story to share. By Free Swim many of the girls were coming down in groups to take a dip in the lake with their friends. It’s wonderful to see friendships new and old bringing girls together so quickly on the first full day.

We also finally got a rainstorm this afternoon! We haven’t had rain for a few weeks, so the shower was much appreciated. It wasn’t enough to disrupt activities, but it did encourage girls to take advantage of bonding time in the cabin. The rain makes things grow, including cabin camaraderie. It’s wonderful that so much happened today at camp, both outside in activities as well as inside the cabins among the girls. Cabin culture is a huge part of the camp experience, and today was a very formative day in that regard, especially since the rain encouraged a cozy afternoon after the storm.

three silly girls

By dinner the energy was buzzing in the dining hall. After four activity periods, the day seems endless because so much has already been done. The girls were laughing and singing loudly and proudly, finally allowing themselves to settle in a bit more to the crazy camp lifestyle.

Twilight offered a trip down to the camp garden, as well as another chance for the girls to get more comfortable with the charms of camp and their friends on the hill. Finally, the night ended with cabin skits on each line, offering a new way for cabinmates to bond over a shared experience of performing ridiculous skits in fun costumes in front of their peers. Milk and cookies topped off the evening as the girls went off to bed, a new day patiently waiting on the other side of a second night in the mountains. Tomorrow, the redbird will sing again.

girls making camera hand sign

Love from the Lake,

Chrissy

Lollipop Moments

by Chrissy Swartz, Waterfront Director

RBC started off our lazy Sunday with a full extra hour of sleep and a special treat of Krispy Kreme donuts for breakfast. The girls came to the dining hall in their pajamas, and then returned to their lines after breakfast to tidy up both their cabins and themselves in preparation for Cabin Inspection and Chapel. Chapel at Rockbrook is always a meaningful experience full of sharing communal values in a supportive, safe place.

Camp Chapel

Today’s theme, goodwill, promoted feelings of kindness and awareness towards others, in addition to being the namesake of one of our oldest buildings on the property—the home to our camp library and the activity K.I.T. (Keep In Touch).

Girls from every age group volunteered to share stories and sentimental objects that they believed symbolized goodwill. Many of the stories focused on the idea that a small act of kindness towards someone else can start a domino effect of good deeds. No matter how small an act of goodwilll is, its impact can be monumental.

One counselor shared a story she remembered from a TED Talk, an organization devoted to the spread of ideas in Technology, Entertainment and Design. The video of the talk is below, filmed September 2010 at TEDxToronto. I highly encourage you to watch the short video for the full story. However, I have also included the meat of the transcript below that I felt connected well to our chapel theme. This is the story of lollipop moments.

Drew Dudley: Everyday Leadership [transcript]

I went to a little school called Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. And on my last day there, a girl came up to me and said, “I remember the first time I met you.” And she told me a story that had happened four years earlier. She said, “On the day before I started university, I was in the hotel room with my mom and dad, and I was so scared and so convinced that I couldn’t do this, that I wasn’t ready for university, that I just burst into tears. My mom and dad were amazing. They were like, “We know you’re scared, but let’s just go tomorrow, go to the first day, and if at any point you feel as if you can’t do this, that’s fine; tell us, and we’ll take you home. We love you no matter what.'”

She says, “So I went the next day. I was in line for registration, and I looked around and just knew I couldn’t do it; I wasn’t ready. I knew I had to quit. I made that decision and as soon as I made it, an incredible feeling of peace came over me. I turned to my mom and dad to tell them we needed to go home, and at that moment, you came out of the student union building wearing the stupidest hat I’ve ever seen in my life.”

“It was awesome. And you had a big sign promoting Shinerama,”—which is Students Fighting Cystic Fibrosis, a charity I’ve worked with for years—”And you had a bucket full of lollipops. You were handing the lollipops out to people in line, and talking about Shinerama. All of the sudden, you got to me, and you just stopped. And you stared. It was creepy.”

“Then you looked at the guy next to me, smiled, reached into your bucket, pulled out a lollipop, held it out to him and said, ‘You need to give a lollipop to the beautiful woman next to you.'” She said, “I’ve never seen anyone get more embarrassed faster in my life. He turned beet red, he wouldn’t even look at me. He just kind of held the lollipop out like this.”

“I felt so bad for this dude that I took the lollipop. As soon as I did, you got this incredibly severe look on your face, looked at my mom and dad and said, ‘Look at that! Look at that! First day away from home, and already she’s taking candy from a stranger?!'”

She said, “Everybody lost it. Twenty feet in every direction, everyone started to howl. I know this is cheesy, and I don’t know why I’m telling you this, but in that moment when everyone was laughing, I knew I shouldn’t quit. I knew I was where I was supposed to be; I knew I was home. And I haven’t spoken to you once in the four years since that day. But I heard that you were leaving, and I had to come and tell you you’ve been an incredibly important person in my life. I’m going to miss you. Good luck.”

And she walks away, and I’m flattened. She gets six feet away, turns around, smiles and goes, “You should probably know this, too: I’m still dating that guy, four years later.”

A year and a half after I moved to Toronto, I got an invitation to their wedding.

Here’s the kicker: I don’t remember that. I have no recollection of that moment. I’ve searched my memory banks, because that is funny and I should remember doing it and I don’t. That was such an eye-opening, transformative moment for me, to think that maybe the biggest impact I’d ever had on anyone’s life, a moment that had a woman walk up to a stranger four years later and say, “You’ve been an important person in my life,” was a moment that I didn’t even remember.

How many of you guys have a lollipop moment, a moment where someone said or did something that you feel fundamentally made your life better? All right. How many of you have told that person they did it? See, why not? We celebrate birthdays, where all you have to do is not die for 365 days. Yet we let people who have made our lives better walk around without knowing it. Every single one of you has been the catalyst for a lollipop moment. You’ve made someone’s life better by something you said or did. If you think you haven’t, think of all the hands that didn’t go up when I asked. You’re just one of the people who hasn’t been told.

Rockbrook is full of lollipop moments shared among campers and counselors alike. So many of our values at RBC encourage us to share and support and grow alongside each other while at camp. I truly believe every Rockbrook girl has a lollipop moment in mind when she immediately begs to sign up for next summer as she waves goodbye to this year’s cabinmates and counselors. And I also truly believe that we have all inspired those moments in others, whether we are aware of our impact or not.

It was very fitting that our afternoon culminated in another Rockbrook special event, Miss RBC, which asks each cabin to collaborate on a skit of some sort. Remixes of traditional Rockbrook songs, rewrites of chart-topping hits, and some groovy dance moves were only a few of the highlights of the skits. Other girls chose to make their own music with their hands and feet and voices, or with props, including pots and pans.

missRBC

This event always challenges the girls in some way or another. It requires teamwork, communication, and compromise. But in the end, every skit comes together to form something beautiful that includes each and every camper in some way. It’s a celebration of taking a chance, of getting up on stage in crazy costumes to perform in front of a lot of other people, knowing the whole time that you’re not alone, that the girls on either side of you are also wearing a similar goofy costume and singing their hearts out about muffin breaks in harmony with you.

The entire point of Miss RBC is to be confident while looking and acting silly, together. That’s pretty much the goal of camp in general, too.

“There’s power in looking silly and not caring that you do.”   –Amy Poehler

Having the confidence to laugh at yourself for wearing three pairs of sunglasses and a pink boa inspires others around you to be confident and goofy. It lets our true and authentic selves shine through. I can think of no better place than Rockbrook where we can explicitly recognize these lollipop moments, and also intentionally create them. We pay it forward at camp; and in return we receive encouragement, love, and friendship.

My parting words this evening, then, are as follows: Peace on earth, goodwill to men, and pink boas for all.

potsandpans

The Struggle of Camp

Camp Archer Girl

It might sound strange, but when you think about it, one of the reasons we send our children to camp —and I’d say this is true for my own girls who attend Rockbrook later during Third Session— is to have them struggle. That’s right; just as much as we hope they’ll have fun, a few bumps in the road is important as well. Scanning through the Rockbrook Web site you won’t see this exactly emphasized, of course. Instead you’ll see girls having the time of their lives, smiling while rock climbing, horseback riding, flying through the air on our zipline course, and working the pedals of an antique floor loom. But we know that attending summer camp is more than just fun, more significant than visiting an amusement park. We know that camp is good for kids in important ways, and we hope the experience of these days away from home will be meaningful and formative long after they return.  And, learning to deal positively with difficulty is one clear area of growth.

The word here is “resilience,” that ability to recover from setbacks, to solve everyday problems, to be strong when met with disappointment. We want our kids to be more resilient when they encounter frustration, and when they get upset that something isn’t going exactly right. After all, life as an adult is often colored with those sorts of challenges— traffic jams, bureaucratic obstacles, mean-spirited colleagues at work, etc. As we work to improve things, strive toward goals, there’s bound to be some struggle. So what do you do when things get difficult like that? Get angry, start blaming, crumple into a heap? Or do you reapply yourself, navigate the problem creatively, look for solutions? What do you hope your kids will do when they’re older?

Whitewater Rafters

It turns out that camp is a great place for kids to become more resilient. Life here is chock full of opportunities to learn that problems can be solved, obstacles overcome, and setbacks endured. With the encouraging environment combined with so many positive role models at camp, especially at Rockbrook, the inevitable challenges of something different— a new activity,  unfamiliar food, unsettling creature like a “spricket” (which, by the way, look like monstrous combinations of spiders and crickets that love to find their way into the cabins… aka, camel crickets) —isn’t as overwhelming. The strong community of camp provides the support. It pulls us all along, bolstering your girls’ confidence at the top of sliding rock, inspiring them to try again when they can’t make a climbing move on the alpine tower or center their clay on the potter’s wheel. There’s a power to the collective experience of camp. When everyone has to walk down the cabin line at night to visit the bathroom, when everyone lives essentially outside with no AC, or when everyone has to help keep the dining hall clean, it’s easier to handle what’s uncomfortable. At camp, we simply don’t stop when we struggle. Supporting each other, we try harder.

Camp Girl Shaving Cream Fight
Big Water Sliding Rock

You might even think of this as the essence of camp; it’s inherently different from ordinarily life. Away from the comforts of home, living with new people, being immersed in nature, camp requires girls to adapt, to meet those (and other) differences and despite any initial uncertainty, carry on.  If we could somehow lessen those differences, add AC and bathrooms to the cabins for example, or serve only familiar foods, something important and valuable would be lost. It would mean lessening the challenges of camp, taking away some of the struggles, and thereby reducing the opportunities to develop a healthy habit of resilience. If we made camp completely comfortable, it would cease to even be camp, and this important opportunity for growth would be diminished if not lost altogether.  Plus, I suspect, camp would be less meaningful for the girls. Attending would be reduced to mere amusement, and something easily forgotten.

Yes, we have fun at camp. And yes, we sometimes struggle with the challenging differences we encounter here, but together it’s great.

Teen Camp Girls

According to the Campers

Once again, I thought we could publish a few pieces written by the campers themselves, telling us what Rockbrook has meant to them, and what they might have learned this session. We asked a Junior, and three Seniors (writing together) to share their thoughts, and these are the results!

So Much Shaving Cream
Three Musketeers

Kate (9)–South Carolina

Rockbrook is a great place because it’s a place where girls can learn. They don’t just learn they become stronger people. When I first came to camp, I was not a really strong person. I did not make my bed, or clean much.

Then the day of camp came. From that second ’til now, I can tell all the girls and I have become stronger people and friends. I think that Rockbrook can make you meet a pal for life. I did, and we have told each other many secrets.

I also think my counselors are right about the saying “FFF” (Fierce Fabulous Females). That’s what you will become if you come to Rockbrook.

Hugs!

Rachel (14)–Virginia; Sanders (14)–Texas; Emily (14)–Georgia

When the three of us, Rachel, Sanders, and Emily, volunteered to write a snippet of the camp blog, at first we were unsure of how to put our thoughts into words. Should it be funny, formal, poetic, etc…? But, as we talked about it, it seemed to write itself:

To us, Rockbrook is waking up with a tangle of signatures strewn above your head. It’s coming back to friends you haven’t seen in a year, and feeling like you never left. It’s the deafening crunch of gravel at rest hour, and star-gazing on the Hill when you’re supposed to be asleep. It’s the nights when the sky is within your reach, and the darkness is your blanket.

Rockbrook is arguing with your counselor over the existence of a Fairy Party [editor’s note: just a dream…], and redetermining what “dry” means. It’s days in which laughter’s as constant as breath, and the cardinal’s glow stays with you all year. It’s the smile on your face when you’re singing your favorite camp song at the top of your lungs.

Rockbrook is home.

Going Old-School

The Winners!

On Sunday, our campers took part in a longtime Rockbrook tradition: Miss RBC. Judging by its name alone, you might think that Miss RBC is just a regular, run-of-the-mill beauty pageant. You might also wonder, then, why it has any place at a summer camp that doesn’t tend to glorify those things that are glorified in typical beauty pageants.

Not to worry, though—our Miss RBC is a glorification only of the most Rockbrook-y values: silliness, fun, crazy costumes, and teamwork. The “contestants” (one from each cabin) put on their craziest costumes, parade around the gym doing their funniest beauty-pageant walk, and answer questions such as “Would you rather get to school every day riding an elephant, a dragon, or a witch’s broom?” (The answer that was given to this question, incidentally, was “elephant,” though I myself would have chosen the broomstick—the relative discomfort is outweighed by the fact that it can neither step on you, nor set you on fire).

A Cappella
Question-and-Answer

Girls that, at school, might only be praised for their looks or their popularity, are celebrated here for the size of their sombrero, or for the fact that they knew that the only logical response to the question “What is something that should never be vacuumed,” was, “The fur of a medium-sized squirrel.”

Why was that the answer? Who knows. But the response was hilarious, and the whole gym applauded hard and loud for that contestant.

Still, the contestants’ question-and-answer portion is only one part of the Miss RBC process. The part that the campers (and staff) look forward to the most is definitely the talent portion. In the talent portion, entire cabins take the stage to perform something together—sometimes it is a dance, or an original song, or a skit, or anything else that they can think of. In recent years, the campers have tended to focus on elaborate dances, set to their favorite songs, which we play over the loudspeaker.

The Cup Song
CA's Talent

This session, however, we decided to throw a twist into these usual proceedings: no pre-recorded music. That’s right, we went old-school. We were a bit nervous, when we made this announcement, that it might throw the girls off and make for a less exciting talent show; as usual, however, we shouldn’t have doubted that our campers would rise to the occasion.

What unfolded Sunday afternoon, was absolutely the best Miss RBC I’ve ever seen. Cabins wrote and performed songs, sang in a cappella, performed beautiful dances while one cabinmate sang a pop song into the microphone, and one cabin even brought out pots and pans from the kitchen and performed a percussion piece. The talents were imaginative and daring, and all were incredibly impressive. We were so proud to see our campers rise to this new challenge and put on such a great show!