A Treasury of Firsts

Fresh Tamale Making crew

Over the last two days, Rick and his friends in the Rockbrook kitchen, have been preparing a special treat for us, and today we all enjoyed it. You may be able to tell from this photo, but the treat was authentic homemade, completely from scratch, tamales. A tamale is an ancient, traditional Mesoamerican dish made from finely ground corn, lime, oil and stock combined into a paste, spread into a corn husk with meats or peppers as fillings, and then cooked by steaming.
Each one requires the masa (corn dough) and filling be combined and rolled in the corn husk by hand. But it doesn’t stop there. In addition, the chicken used for the filling is first roasted an shredded off the bone, but then combined with a homemade Guajillo chili sauce, which gives it a bright red color. They also made a green variety using tomatillos, serrano peppers, onion and garlic. For the vegetarians, they steamed a cheese and Ancho chili pepper variety. Can you see why this took two days, especially when almost 700 tamales needed to be made? And the results… Unbelievably delicious. Certainly many of the girls and a few of the counselors had never before tasted a treat like this, but like many of the “firsts” experienced around here— first ride on a zip line, first time shooting a gun, first time cantering a horse —camp is a great place to give it a try. There’s just the right amount of encouragement and “positive peer pressure” to give hesitant girls a little nudge outside of their routine, to challenge their assumptions.

Girl show success on the pottery wheel
Camp girl show success on loom weaving

Naturally, at a camp like Rockbrook, with almost 30 different activities and a special event or surprise planned almost everyday, the opportunities for first experiences are diverse and abundant. The girls here can do some amazing stuff, and even if they’ve already felt the chill of Sliding Rock in Pisgah, climbed a real rock using those amazing “sticky” shoes, or enjoyed a long-range mountain view after hiking a steep trail to a rock cliff, for example, it will be a first for them to do it with these people, with this all-girl group of comfortable friends. The same is true for throwing their first pot on the wheel, seeing beautiful cloth take shape off their loom, learning the “trick” to a one-handed cartwheel. There are so many examples! A girl’s experience at camp is a treasury of firsts that she’ll hold dear for many years to come.

Camp Girls Friends Success

It’s significant, too, that this special place for first experiences, this close-knit camp community defined by respect and cooperation, makes it easy to feel successful, and thereby fosters girls’ self-esteem. We’ve written before about the link between success and self-esteem at camp, so please take a look. There’s the good feeling of discovering a hidden talent when you first try something, a sense of personal achievement, but there’s also success to be found in general “social competence,” and in being included in group endeavors. Since so many of the firsts at camp happen in this positive social setting, they tend to be far less frightening. Knowing that you’ll be supported no matter what individual outcome occurs, seeing other girls laugh and enjoy unfamiliar activities, really helps make any first experience a success and thereby a real boost to a girl’s growing self-esteem.

Our twilight activity tonight was everyone’s favorite, a shaving cream fight down on the grassy sports field. It began with everyone interested (like all twilight activities, it was optional), dressed in their swimsuits, lining up along one side of the field. On the other side, we scattered about 120 cans of plain shaving cream. At the signal, everyone ran to grab a can and then to let their foam fly. Complete mayhem ensued, and in about 30 seconds, everyone had shaving cream on their backs, stomachs and in their hair. That’s basically the point of it, like this photo shows so well; it’s to sneak up on your friends and mischievously “get them” with the white foam. And oh what big fun this is!  It almost feels a little naughty to spray people, but it’s also pretty hilarious to do. We also pulled out the slip-n-slide for a now extra slippery ride. With everyone basically covered, in some cases completely covered, and all the shaving cream cans emptied, we rinsed off a bit under the hoses and headed up to camp for a warm shower. Another first at camp? Perhaps, but certainly a good one too.

Camp girls are mischievous with shaving cream
Camp Girls with shaving cream
Camp girls in group shaving cream fight

A Haven from the Hectic

Does it seem to you like we are living in an increasingly hectic world? Look around and you’ll see families, and more importantly kids, being pulled into a whirlwind of commitments and scheduled activities, all while having less time than ever for quieter, slower things. They’re holding a hectic pace rushing from school to sports practices, from homework to home chores, cutting short time with family, or just the freedom to pursue whatever comes to mind. With rushed meals, complex logistics for “getting things done” and that ragged feeling of not getting quite enough sleep, it’s no wonder kids can so easily be unhappy.

Could it be that by “doing everything we can” to help our kids succeed and achieve, we parents are unintentionally failing to do something else? By charging full speed ahead and taking advantage of every opportunity, what other important things are we missing?

Camp as a sanctuary from hectic living

It reminds me of a quote by Tomas Tranströmer (b. 1931), the Swedish poet who won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature. The author of more than 15 collections of poetry, Mr. Tranströmer has been described as “Sweden’s Robert Frost,” a poet who “gives us fresh access to reality… through his condensed, translucent images.” You definitely should look up his work. At any rate, he also wrote,

You can see beauty if you look quickly to the side.”

Quite keenly, this is a prescription, a welcome reminder that beauty is all around us, that if we stop speeding ahead and take a quick glance to the side, something wonderful is right there waiting to be discovered. It might be as simple as a clump of grass squeezing itself between two bricks, or the decorative trim on an old man’s hat, but more importantly, it could be a person, or a new inspiring experience. It’s pretty clear that as our lives become more hectic, we are missing out on all kinds of subtleties and precious opportunities to expand what we already know. How unfortunate, especially for our kids!

Thankfully, there is summer, a time when kids can slow down and enjoy a meandering pace. And likewise, thank goodness for summer camp, that special place where kids meet wonderful people, and every day encounter fun activities and new experiences. Camp is just brimming with these kinds of positive opportunities to grow. It provides the right balance of structured instruction and free time to pursue casual interests “just for the fun of it.”  At Rockbrook, the rewards of “looking quickly to the side” are frequent, rich and immediate.

While the rest of the world grows increasingly hectic, Rockbrook is an exception. And that’s a good thing.

Curing Community Deficit Disorder

Camp Girls Connected in Community

There are many ways to describe the difference between camp life and the “real world” that happens elsewhere and throughout the school year. At Rockbrook, we might point to our living mostly outdoors and close to nature. We might celebrate our opportunities to experience adventure (hike, paddle, climb!), or to have time for unstructured play. We could describe how camp is a break from electronic technology, and from the social pressures of school revolving around our appearance, possessions, and status. We might highlight the true independence kids experience being away from parents and teachers.

These are all very clear differences, each helping to explain the benefits of a sleepaway camp experience for children. But there is another one, and it is community, the very real sense of being included, respected, trusted and loved by a group of people. Camp is, at its core, a special community built on central values like kindness, cooperation, compassion, care and generosity. It is brimming with enthusiasm and encouragement, wrapped tightly by a collective spirit. At camp, and certainly at Rockbrook, everyone is welcomed and included.

How different this feels from ordinary life! Camp is not about individual consumption, getting a grade, standing out as the best, or advancing at the expense of others. It’s not so ego-centric, nor blind to the people around us. At camp, where there is always support from friends, you’re never left to just fend for yourself.

And how wonderful it feels! Partly, I think joining a camp community, and other communities too, provides us such a powerful sense of contentment because it is so different from ordinary American life. Human beings, and especially kids, crave this kind of connection. We need to know wholeheartedly that we belong to something bigger than “just me,” that our “true self” is accepted and valued by those around us, and unfortunately it is all too rare these days. Perhaps we modern Americans are dis-content because we are dis-connected from an authentic community. Perhaps we are suffering from what could be called “Community Deficit Disorder.”

Thank goodness for camp and its ability to be a powerful and effective antidote for this disorder. It may not be the main reason we attend a sleepaway camp, but the joy of joining a camp community is certainly one of the most important reasons why we love it.

How to Conquer Your Fears

It was Franklin D. Roosevelt who reminded us that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Camp provides one of the most gentle, nurturing backdrops to encourage girls to face their fears and conquer their anxieties. As counselors we are an integral part of this process. Here are some simple tools to help your campers overcome three common fears at camp.

The Fear of Water

  1. Start by encouraging the camper to ease into the water. Sit by the lake with only her toes in the water.
  2. Once the camper is comfortable, move to standing calf-deep in the water. Ask the camper to splash herself with water on her thighs. Once confident with this, splash water on her arms and chest.
  3. When the camper feels comfortable submerging most of her body in the water help her learn how to get her face wet.
  4. Sprinkle only “raindrops” on the camper’s face and hair, to mimic the sensation of a shower. Once the camper’s hair is wet ask her to dip her chin underneath the water. Have her then tilt her face toward the surface of the water and get her forehead wet. Once the camper feels very comfortable performing these tasks, move to teach her to blow bubbles underwater.
  5. Place your index finger in front of the camper’s face. Tell her to imagine your finger is a birthday candle that she must blow out. Once the camper masters the blowing technique, slowly lower your finger having the camper repeat the process until your finger is under the surface of the water and she must have her mouth is the water to “blow out the candle.”

The Fear of Spiders

  1. Begin by educating your camper about spiders. Explain how important spiders our to our ecosystem and how many good things they do for us. Describe how most spiders do not wish to engage with humans (we are bigger than they are- that’s scary to a little, old spider!), primarily eat insects, and lack the capability to bite a human even if they wanted to.
  2. Next introduce your camper to some spider-friendly books. In some cases, the more pictures the better, so that the camper can interact imaginatively with a friendly image of a spider. Other campers will respond to you reading aloud about spiders before bed. Some of our favorite books include Charlotte’s Web, Simon and Schuster Children’s Guide to Insects and Spiders, The Very Busy Spider, and The Eensy Weensy Spider Freaks Out!
  3. Incorporate spider toys as part of your cabin decorations. These could be paper hangings your campers have designed and constructed themselves, toy models of spiders, or stuffed animal spiders. This will help the camper become acquainted with both the form and function of spiders.
  4. Find a real spider (at camp this is not hard!) Have the camper stand next to you, but at a distance to the spider that she feels comfortable. While in the physical proximity of a spider have your camper recall all the ways in which spiders benefit society. Help her to visually identify different parts of the spider’s body and describe their function.

The Fear of Heights

  1. Encourage your camper to sign up for gymnastics. Here, she can begin by balancing on the low balance beam and work towards balancing on the full beam.
  2. Once your camper has slowing exposed herself to these, move to take her on a hike where she can clearly see the altitude increasing, but is assured a gentle path with solid footing.
  3. Before beginning the hike establish at “scared scale” with your camper. Tell her that at different points in the hike you would like to gauge her fear level. One representing “very comfortable” and ten representing “extremely fearful.”Ask her what number she feels comfortable reaching and tell her the moment she feels that number you will immediately turn around. Each day challenge your camper to get a little farther on the hike.
  4. Once a camper has acclimated to a height where she feels comfortable spend time with her in this space. Encourage her to engage in activities that relax her in these elevated places. For example, bring a bottle of lemonade for your camper and her cabin mates  to enjoy at a mountain summit, or have your camper and her friends make bracelets on a waterfall bridge.

When helping a camper overcome a fear it is important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all policy that will work for every girl. The key is patience. Your job is to help a camper face her fear when she is ready, but only she can decide when the time is right.

The Heart of a Wooded Mountain

Marie Brown Chapel

Toward the end of our recent Rockbrook Alumnae reunion celebrating the 90th year of the camp, the women attending held an impromptu chapel meeting. Like those held on Sunday mornings in the summer, this gathering was a chance to sing favorite traditional songs and reflect upon some of the more important experiences, lessons and values we all associate with Rockbrook. These are wonderful moments, often full of personal stories, and on this occasion, childhood memories of camp.

Marie Brown, who came to camp starting in 1989 when she was 8, shared something that we’re so proud to reprint here. It’s a brief reflection on how the Spirit of Rockbrook can sustain and revive us long after we grow up and become adults in the “real world.”

Alumnae Reunion Chapel with Marie Brown
Alumnae Reunion Chapel

“The wonders of air travel, incredible timing, (and a supportive husband) have made it possible for me to step out of the stifling mayhem I have been living to come for a brief moment to be here. All the stone and concrete has fallen away into mountain laurel, rushing water, beloved rocks and roots and trees…and faces that, despite the decades, haven’t seemed to age.

I have to admit, I was afraid to come. My memories of this place are so deeply embedded in my heart, so close to my core, so invaluable to my spirit, I was afraid that coming back here with the sharpened, hardened and perhaps jaded eyes of an adult would somehow mar the perfection of those memories. And between having a genetically poor memory, and the inability to return to any of the places I actually called home as a child, at times it feels as though the past were no more than a figment of my imagination. There is no other place on the planet that I can go to that holds anywhere as much of my memory in its hillsides as this place. So it was with trepidation that I came to tread back into those memories.

Marie Brown and Sarah Carter
Marie and Sarah

I was grateful as a child and well aware it was only because of the generosity of my grandmother (also a Rockbrook girl) that I was able to come year after year. But I don’t think there was any way for me to understand how big a gift she was giving me until I left Rockbrook to fare the rockier world of “civilization” without my annual reprieve in this Rivendale.

I have spent countless days and nights over the last years feeling I was going crazy, feeling so trapped or confused or heartbroken about the state of the world; a world continually more driven by fear, over “teched” yet disconnected, and terrifyingly detached from, and destructive of, nature. It is so easy to get overwhelmed by all the noise… and for someone as sensitive as myself, to feel despair. But despair won’t do any of us any good. So coming back here at this particular moment for me, and walking literally as if I were Mary Poppins jumping into the chalk painting of my childhood and finding it hasn’t changed (and where it has it has only gotten better) has given me such rejuvenating hope. I am not crazy. I am not intolerant, or impatient, or bitter. I am just in severe withdrawal of my annual dose of Rockbrook.

And what this weekend has shown me is that the gifts and perspective, and lessons this place has to offer are just as present and valuable to me now as there were for me when I was a little girl. If not more so. These enduring stones soften my hardened defenses. The cold waters warm my chilled spirit. These steep hills dull my impatience and intolerance. And rather than damaging the perfection of my memories, returning has added to them. Returning to Rockbrook for even this brief sip has filled my belly once again with a little bit of ginger, a little bit of grit, a little bit of spirit and a little bit of wit to carry with me as I go back out once again to face the big bad world.”

Thanks Marie!

Fun and Formative

Camper girl kayaking clinic

For quite a while now we’ve talked about how Rockbrook is “a place for girls to grow,” how a sleepaway camp experience can be so instrumental in the lives of young girls, helping them socially, personally, and even physically. Being at Rockbrook is plenty of fun, of course, but it’s also formative in really important ways. Here’s an article we published back in February about how camp helps children grow.

The adventure activities at Rockbrook provide a good example of this. They are ideally suited to providing the right balance of challenge and success, in an active, friendly and supportive context. They are just right for inspiring campers and fostering their self-confidence and social skills. Take today’s kayaking trip down the French Broad River. The girls handled the rapids, stuck together as a group encouraging each other, and conquered the technical aspects of catching eddies, ferrying, and reading the river. There were international campers on the trip too (Belgium and Russia), giving the girls even more chances to learn from each other. Getting out of camp for a river trip like this is often a highlight of a girl’s camp experience, perhaps because it’s a more focused moment where she can feel good about her abilities and relationships. Or, perhaps it’s just a good time!

Camper Fairy House

Our traditional Rockbrook “camp song” includes this line— The rosy mist of the morning, Veil it anew at dawn, Like a fairyland of beauty, Where friendships so true are born. This line is inspired by the notion that Rockbrook is a “fairyland of beauty,” that all of its natural beauty, the mosses, rocks, creeks, ferns and wildflowers for example, are the work of fairies. All of us at Rockbrook, being in this “wonder-full” place, can easily imagine friendly spirits working their magic all around us. This photo shows a “fairy house” a few of the girls have built near hiker’s rock. Gathering leaves, sticks, moss and other found bits of nature, they’ve been building several of these houses. Some have bathtubs, beds and even a set of “monkey bars” and a swing! Others were made mostly of rocks and colorful pebbles.  What fun to search the woods with your friends for special, enchanted fairy house building materials!  And, what a nice surprise to turn the corner in camp and encounter one of these special creations.

Girls dressed up for camp event

For dinner tonight Rick made us a feast of baked tilapia, roasted red potatoes, steamed broccoli (along with our salad bars of fresh fruits and veggies), along with Alison’s homemade brownies for dessert. After dinner, Jane (who by the way is majoring in fine art photography at The Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, DC) grabbed the camera and announced an impromptu twilight activity for the girls: a silly glamor photo shoot. She encouraged folks to just dress up and come out to the hill to get their picture taken. Dressed in true Rockbrook spirit (i.e. super silly) mostly the Juniors got excited about the idea, and Jane captured a bunch of really great shots.

We Love Roasting Marshmallows

roasting marshmallows on a campfire

Getting excited for camp? We sure are! There are so many reasons, but seeing this picture really gets us looking forward to campfires and roasting marshmallows. It’s such a great classic summer camp experience… searching the forest for just the right roasting stick (the right length, thickness and stiffness, etc.), gathering around the fire, and carefully holding the marshmallow near the coals or over the flame to turn it that ideal shade of brown/black. Golden brown or charred to a crisp?

Did you know that marshmallows originally were made from extracting a substance from the root of the marshmallow plant, Althaea officinalis, and were primarily used as a remedy for sore throats? Later, candy makers in France began whipping it with sugar and egg whites to make a yummy dessert, and then in the 1940s marshmallows were mass produced and distributed as we know them today.

Around here, it seems like a bag of marshmallows goes on every overnight backpacking trip. We’ll definitely be doing some roasting! Can’t wait!

SUCCESS Act – H.R. 5963

Summer Camp Girls Success

Have you heard of the SUCCESS Act (H.R. 5963), a bill introduced last year by US. Representative Carolyn McCarthy of New York? “SUCCESS” is an acronym for (promoting) Students Using the Camp Community for Enrichment, Strength, and Success. Essentially this bill would direct the Secretary of Education to fund pilot programs exploring how the summer camp experience promotes physical activity and healthy lifestyles among children and youth, reduces summer learning loss, and promotes academic achievement.

It’s long been known among summer camp professionals, and among camp parents, that children who attend camp receive unique and valuable benefits. Because of camp, kids are better prepared for school when they return, are more physically fit by virtue of the activities at camp, and are more socially adept and emotionally mature (confident, independent, resilient). Likewise, it’s clear camp kids struggle less with childhood obesity and summer learning loss, two issues that are rampant and negatively impacting today’s children in America.

This legislation recognizes these benefits of a camp experience and aims to study how they can be more broadly known, made more widely available to children throughout the country, and how they can be more tightly integrated with school curricula. We know camp is powerful, but let’s talk about how and let’s get more children involved so they too can benefit from the experience. This bill would be a good step toward that goal.

The American Camp Association is promoting the SUCCESS Act as well.

Unfortunately, this bill “died” in the Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities during the 111th Congress, and thus far in the new 112th congress, it has not been reintroduced. In today’s federal budget climate, it’s hard to imagine this new congress being too excited about bolstering our nation’s public education, in even the small step the SUCCESS Act was designed to achieve. That’s a shame, you have to admit.

Camp Estivation

Estivation fun at camp

Word of the Day!

estivate.

This is a great word that applies to camp. You’ve heard of “hibernate,” which basically means to “spend the winter in a dormant condition.” Well, estivate means the opposite— “to spend the summer, as at a specific place or in a certain activity.”

Looking it up here, you find that estivate is derived from the latin word aestīvāre meaning “to reside during the summer (akin to aestīvus of or relating to summer).”

So, what’s the best way to estivate this year? At Rockbrook Camp! Are you a camp estivator? Are you ready for some seriously fun estivation?!! Oh yeah!

The Youth Camps of North Carolina

Visitors to western North Carolina often remark that there are a lot of summer camps located in the area. There sure are! The awesome natural features of this part of NC— the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River, millions of acres of State and National forests, whitewater rivers, rock climbing crags, and beautiful lakes —make it ideal for adventure activities, cooler summer temperatures, and the outdoor setting for summer camps. It’s not too surprising western North Carolina has a long history of summer camping.

Looking at the entire state, there’s a clear pattern to where summer camps are located. Take a look at this map.

Summer Camps in North Carolina

It shows the youth summer camps in western North Carolina. In the entire state, there are approximately 186 camps, with more than half (about 90) located in the western mountains. The others are concentrated near 3 major population centers (Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh). Many of these are smaller day camps that serve the local communities.

The red pins are accredited by American Camp Association accredited camps, like Rockbrook. Here too, more than half of the State’s ACA accredited camps are located in the western region.

For more information about the precise location of Rockbrook, visit our NC Location page.

youth campers in NC