That Great Feeling

With the summer now behind us, and our attention focused on the new school year, I wanted to think back about camp and thank everyone who helped make this one of the best Rockbrook summers ever.

camp teen girl friends

Back in May, we weren’t 100% certain how it would go when we opened camp. There were still plenty of unanswered questions looming about how the pandemic would affect camp life.  But working with guidance from the American Camp Association, we rethought everything in terms of the coronavirus. We took great pains to consider how we might keep infections out of camp and how we could minimize its spread if it did, despite those efforts, sneak in. We changed how we organized our in-camp activities, doubled our health care team, spread out our food service onto new outdoor dining areas, and created a plan for pre-camp testing, quarantining, and a reasonable system of mask wearing for campers and staff members.

But all of this wouldn’t have been enough if our campers and their parents hadn’t been so supportive of these new safety protocols.  Thank you parents!  Thank you for placing your confidence in Rockbrook and for believing in the benefits of a camp experience for your girls, even if that experience would be different in some ways from years past. Thank you campers for your enthusiasm and love of camp. Thank you for sticking with us through 2020 when we had to close camp. And thank you for your trust in 2021!

fun kayaking camp instruction

The success of the summer wouldn’t have been possible without the extra hard work of our leadership team, incredible staff of cabin counselors, adventure guides, activity specialists, housekeeping, maintenance and kitchen teams.  While some camps struggled to fill positions, Rockbroook was fortunate to have every role filled with excellent folks who showed real dedication and commitment to doing their best work, even under more challenging conditions. To everyone who worked at Rockbrook this summer (all 172 of you!), thank you! Each of you contributed something special to this camp community.

Thanks to this good planning, to families doing their part, and to an incredibly hard-working camp staff— plus a dose of good luck —this past summer was COVID-free. We had no positive cases of the coronavirus at Rockbrook. Despite the ongoing pandemic, Rockbrook had a fantastic camp season— refreshing everyone at camp, rebuilding our connections to what really matters, and reviving that camp spirit we’ve all yearned for. We are all grateful beyond words.

We’re already looking forward to next summer when we can welcome everyone back to Rockbrook and recreate that great feeling of camp— the relief that comes from being surrounded by a supportive community, the joy of being utterly silly just for fun, and the pride that blossoms after accomplishing new things.  We’re looking forward to seeing again all of the great people that make up the uniquely caring culture of Rockbrook.

Let’s stay in touch, and we’ll see you real soon!

small camp girls building fairy houses

Precious Time

The last full day of our third session was today. After the upbeat excitement of the banquet last night, there was a different tone today. Instead celebrating with singing and dancing, we were more thoughtful. We slowed down and tried to savor the simple moments of camp. While packing we chatted with cabin mates. We admired each other’s finished pottery pieces. Some of us rode horses for the last time at the barn party. We watched the play performance. Mostly though, we simply wanted to spend time with our friends, to hang out with them, not really doing anything in particular. Each minute of the day seemed to include that feeling of it being precious time. We knew our days together were waning.

camp girl holding ceremonial candle

It’s a fact about camp life; we don’t want it to end. Especially during the 3rd session when school is right around the corner for most, we can’t help but lament the ending of what we love about camp: the relaxed pace, the freedom to decide things on our own, the constant support and encouragement from the community, the feeling of belonging and love that follows from being our true selves, all the action, and the refreshment from being outdoors so much… and yes, even the break from social media and screen-based entertainment. We love all this and more about camp— it provides so much joy —so on the last day, it’s a little sad to think about it coming to a close.

This tone carried into the final campfire of the session, our “Spirit Fire.” The tradition of this ceremonial campfire started 100 years ago when Rockbrook was founded. With the whole camp gathered, it is a chance for everyone in the session to reflect a little about their time at camp. We sing traditional songs, and listen as campers and staff members take turns giving short speeches about what Rockbrook means to them. Tonight they talked about making quick friends, feeling at ease and at “home” after arriving here at Rockbrook, and also feeling incredibly grateful for all that camp has provided them over the last few weeks. There was a real awareness of how special this experience is, and how much they’ll miss it back home.

As the girls circled the lake holding their candles and singing softly, it was clear again that camp was just right. It provided the deep human connection we all needed, helping everyone feel happy and normal again. Such comfort and satisfaction to end our day, and our time together, it was a touching, sweet moment I think we’ll all remember fondly.

rockbrook candle ceremony at camp lake

Two Extraordinary Surprises

We love surprises at Rockbrook. Today the campers had two extraordinary surprises, one that they were eagerly awaiting and another that was totally unexpected. In both cases, I suspect these surprises included completely new experiences for the girls.

camp girls and lama

The first happened late in the morning. Without explaining, we interrupted the girls and told them to gather down at the landsports field. When they arrived, they were greeted by nine furry new friends, nine llamas. Yes, a herd of llamas had come to Rockbrook, just for a visit. We thought the girls would enjoy interacting with these fascinating animals, and we were right! They took the llamas for a walk and had loads of time to hug and pet them. Of course, they made great companions for photographs, but the highlight was racing the llamas. Lined up on one side of the field, a few of the girls took off running to the other side, llamas easily keeping up with their sprint. So fun! Came to camp; hugged a llama. Check.

The second surprise was tonight’s banquet, the big all-camp party to celebrate the session that the CA (9th grade) campers have been working on since the second day of camp when they devised the party’s secret theme. The theme guides their selection of decorations for the dining hall, their costumes, the food, music and dance performances. So what was their theme?

club olympus sign
banquet costumes

They brought together the idea of a dinner casino club and various Greek gods and goddesses, and called it “Dining with the Divine.” Using painted panels for the many gods and goddesses, strings of lights and elaborate table decorations, the dining hall became “Club Olympus.”

All of the CA campers dressed (and acted) like different gods and goddesses, with Athena, Hera, Ares, Zeus, Hermes, Hestia, Achilles, Demeter, Aphrodite, Persephone, Poseidon, Dionysus, Apollo and Hades all making an appearance. Their counselors also dressed up, each as a different Muse, like Thalia, Ourania, Terpsichore and Erato.

The menu included pasta and red sauce, chicken nuggets, bread, grapes, and very decadent dessert cupcakes “from the underworld.” Of course, there was some candy involved as well!

The program alternated between dance performances by the gods and goddesses and other dance songs where the whole camp could get up and dance together. Everyone especially loved the choreographed dance of the muses.

The banquet ended with the CA campers singing a song to their counselors, and then their counselors singing one to the campers in return. The Hi-Ups followed with songs to their counselors as well.

The evening ended with the entire camp gathering into their cabin groups and singing “Rockbrook Camp Forever,” one of everyone’s most loved songs. It can be a little emotional as the girls and their counselors stand arm in arm singing the song multiple times. It’s a collective hug, a heartfelt musical embrace that brings everyone together. Came to camp; hugged each other. Check!

camp friends hug

Love Like No Other

craft dye summer camp child
summer camp art child

Why be a junior counselor? This is a question I have heard many times, especially from counselors on other lines who are accustomed to living with Rockbrook’s older campers. I’ve considered the question many times through the summer.

Recently, one of my former campers from earlier in the summer wrote me a letter, updating me on her post-camp life and asking how the rest of my summer had gone. “Dear Ellie,” she wrote on the envelope, continuing the rest of her sweet notes inside. She wrote about how much she missed me, and asked me to say hello to some of the other counselors she had bonded with throughout her session. The love that this camper expressed for her counselors (many of which were not even in her cabin) is a true testament to how the Junior Line really becomes a family. 

The phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” comes to mind often on the Junior Line where cabins up on the top of the hill go on exciting adventures together, support each other, and share in each other’s triumphs and joy. We clean cabins together, swim together, and laugh together. 

Living with our youngest campers is truly, in my opinion, the most rewarding experience one can have at camp. Many of our Juniors are coming to camp for the first time ever. They’re embarking on a huge journey, and being part of that first step is an incredible privilege. Although I’m not a parent myself, I like to imagine that there’s a lot in common; I’m introducing my girls to my favorite place in the world and helping them turn Rockbrook into their home away from home. 

Junior counselors experience Rockbrook like no other counselors. I’m constantly looking at Rockbrook through fresh eyes, sharing my campers’ new experiences and sharing their unbridled joy. I dance when we get to go to Dolly’s, scream with laughter when someone drops a meatball on the ground, and shed a happy, heartwarming tear when I watch my girls reunite with their parents at the end of the session. 

So why be a junior counselor? Because the juniors love like no other campers do. They love their new cabin mates, their new adventures, and their counselors who help make it all happen. They especially love Felix, the camp dog. Being a junior counselor is full of ice cream, hair braiding, and watching groups of girls become sisters — I wouldn’t change it for the world. 

—Ellie Culin, Junior Line Head

summer camp natural childhood

Camp Hilarity

Sunday morning again took on a more relaxed pace. After our active weeks at camp, we love a little extra sleep and a casual breakfast in our pajamas. It actually felt a cooler, almost fall-like, in the morning, so most of the girls showed up with an extra long-sleeve layer. A fun treat of doughnuts complimented the regular breakfast fare. With the only the full session girls here at camp— the August mini girl finished their session last week —we now can eat all together in the dining hall and still space out the tables appropriately. This has been a nice coming together of sorts after being spread out previously on the two eating porches.

After the flag raising ceremony led by the Hi-Ups, the girls turned their attention to the notion of “joy” in their chapel gathering. The Senior line girls decided on the theme, and led the program. It included a rendition of the song “Joy to the World,” and a reading of “Ferdinand,” the story of the bull who would rather smell flowers than fight like other bulls. Joy can be found in the most unexpected places.

We had a quick assembly on the hill were we announced the mop awards, recognizing the cleanest cabins. We likewise announced campers who were especially helpful around camp this week (the “bend-a-back” honor) and others that showed remarkable camp spirit at some point.

The main event of the day was an afternoon carnival of games and inflatables down on the grassy landsports field. The girls wore their swimsuits because one of the inflatables was a giant, dual water slide where two campers could slide at once. The other was a crazy obstacle course race, also for two campers at a time.

The games included a ball toss challenge, a surprisingly difficult pingpong ball toss into jars, and another that involved water guns fired at pingpong balls. There was a hula hooping club, a face painting station and a caricature drawing table staffed by two counselors. The silliest game was a team event that had one girl tossing cheeseballs onto another girl’s head as she wore a plastic shower cap with a blob of shaving cream on it. The goal was to “catch” the flying cheeseballs in the shaving cream. We found yet another form of camp hilarity involving shaving cream!

Throughout the event we played up-tempo music turning it into a fun outdoor dance party as well. With this kind of camp enthusiasm and ideal sunny weather, it was an afternoon of positive energy, smiling faces and laughter— girls feeling totally relaxed and confident. It was one of those classic camp experiences that can’t really be recreated anywhere else. It takes these people, and this place, and this spirit. That’s a rare combination, but thankfully you can count on it at Rockbrook.

cabin group award winner

An Excellent Saturday

What an excellent Saturday we’ve had today! It’s been a wonderful mix of summertime camp action and time to relax with these great friends in a beautiful environment. All over Rockbrook girls were busy making things. They were weaving on the looms in Curosty, and baskets outside with their feet in the creek. It was glazing day in pottery, so girls were selecting colorful glazes and carefully painting them on their clay creations. We’ll fire everything in the kilns later in the week.

The needlecraft activity was showing off their knitted water bottle holders, and Hodgepodge was sewing tote bags from tie-dye t-shirts. The archery girls were firing arrow after arrow, just like the riflery campers shooting round after round at their targets. And down on the tennis courts, there were games to help practice their strokes.

There were adventurous girls at camp today too. Climbing the alpine tower has become an obsession for some, with their goal being to climb all three sides. Every camper is having a chance to ride their Rockbrook zipline course with its three exciting zips and 3 challenging suspension bridge elements. A small group of girls went rock climbing on Castle Rock this morning, trying their best on three different routes up there. Horses were ridden all four activity periods, keeping the barn staff busy providing mounted lessons.

With our recent sunny and warm weather, the lake has been packed with girls cooling off. While some swam their “mermaid laps” others did tricks off the diving board. A few girls found a friend and floated around in a couple of tubes, feet dangling the water while they chatted. During both the morning and afternoon free swim periods, the giant water slide saw non-stop action. The girls made their way around to the far side of the lake, climbed the tall tower, and screamed to a splash landing 60th below.

group of shaving cream fight girls

In the late afternoon, and after dinner, the three lines (age groups) each had a shaving cream fight down on the grassy landsports field. Dressed in their swimsuits and full of energy, the girls took their cans of shaving cream and proceeded to empty them all over themselves and all over their friends. They ran as they sprayed. They splattered the white foam as they slapped hands. They created a very slippery hair salon for each other. They marked a “six-pack” on their stomachs. In a couple of cases, they covered every square inch of their skin with the white foam. They laughed hysterically as if this was the funniest thing they have ever experienced. Then with some help from a water hose, they launched themselves down a sloping sheet of plastic making a giant slip-n-slide. The photo gallery has proof of all this, proof that this classic camp event was very big fun.

These are the days we love at camp. They stand out because they feel so natural, almost expected at this point in the session. Friendships are stronger and confidence more established. We know the routines of camp life and enjoy the comfort they provide. This is genuine, healthy stuff, and exactly what these girls have needed all year. Their time at Rockbrook is a welcome relief, a return to the joys of being a kid with plenty of time to play outdoors with friends. So good!

group of teen girls jumping shaving cream fight

To Feel a Full Joy

The father of a camper recently sent me a nice note thanking me for his daughter’s camp experience. He was the dad of a first-time camper, so he wasn’t sure if his daughter would like camp. He was very pleased, and described the experience for her as “pure joy.” He explained, “I kept thinking ‘pure joy’ every time I saw a photo of her at camp.”

camp girl kayaking

This wasn’t too surprising to hear. Girls are generally really happy at Rockbrook, and parents can tell by scrolling through the photo gallery. But describing that feeling as “pure joy” stood out to me. I think a lot of parents can relate to this too because they also have a sense that camp is a deeply joyful experience for their daughters.

In earlier posts, I’ve tried to explain why girls are so happy at camp, why they love camp and feel so good being here. And I’m sure there are plenty of reasons. This notion of “pure joy,” however, got me thinking in a different direction.

The poet David Whyte stirred this thinking with his writing on joy. “Joy” is one of the words he considers in his book, Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. He uses beautifully luminous language to reveal deeper meanings, unexpected connections, and nuanced intuition into several core aspects of who we are as human beings— courage, honesty, longing, and rest, for example. Poets like Whyte think deeply about words, and this book is filled with many wise insights.

When contemplating the word “joy” he writes:

To feel a full and untrammeled joy is to have become fully generous; to allow ourselves to be joyful is to have walked through the doorway of fear, the dropping away of the anxious worried self felt like a thankful death itself, a disappearance, a giving away, overheard in the laughter of friendship, the vulnerability of happiness and the magnified vulnerability of its imminent loss, felt suddenly as a strength, a solace and a source, the claiming of our place in the living conversation, the sheer privilege of being in the presence of the ocean, the sky or a daughter’s face framed by the mountains – I was here and you were here and together we made a world.

David Whyte — Consolations

There is so much to this, but I think it reveals something about the joy your girls feel at camp.

Camp life, strengthened and sustained by the positive relationships of this community, provides a haven where our “anxious worried self” can fade away revealing “who we really are.” The genuine support and true enthusiasm shown all around us inspires degrees of courage to drop social pretensions, to shed our most polished masks. This wonderful community of caring and kind people empowers girls to step “through the doorway of fear” and find that they are accepted, valued and loved, despite whatever they think of as an imperfection. It gives them confidence to claim their “place in the living conversation” as energized participants in life. David Whyte is reminding us that just like “laughter and friendship,” joy arises from these conditions, from this authenticity of self.

There’s also a point about generosity, that becoming “fully generous” is aligned with feeling a “full and untrammeled” joy. There is a link between being generous and joyful. Thinking then about generosity, I believe Whyte is pointing out that joy requires a recognition of another person (group, organization, etc.), a relationship, a connection beyond merely the self. Joy resides beyond what’s self-absorbed.

Here too, I’d say the camp community has a real power to inspire generosity. Every day at camp gifts are made and given. Food is shared. Help is offered. …all beyond our own needs. Generosity is just a natural expression of paying attention to others, to the crucial role they play in your life, and at camp this is our daily nourishment. Perhaps then as camp inspires this attention to others and this generosity, it likewise inspires joy.

Again, we’re not talking about kayaking, backpacking, pottery or archery, though we had groups of girls en-joying all those today. We’re not talking about the delicious strawberry and white chocolate muffins we ate around 11am. We’re not talking about shooting a bullseye or winning a tennis point. We’re talking about who we are and our relationships with others. The joy experienced at camp is rooted in that.

Quite often, I use the word “joy” to describe the feeling of camp. Now I think I know why.

summer camp girls

3rd Session Video Glimpse — 2

We’ve got one last short video for you from our amazing videographer Robbie Francis.

It’s again filled with fascinating moments that beautifully convey the feel of life at Rockbrook. Each time you watch it, you’re bound to notice something new— mostly busy kids having fun outdoors, but also joyful expressions of friendship. It’s absolutely lovely!

Take a look, and let us know what you think.

Click here for the video Or see below.

The Fun is Simple

Sometimes what it takes to have fun is simple. That’s especially true at camp where you’re surrounded by dozens of people you consider friends, some super close friends. Mix in a feeling of adventure and suddenly we have exciting fun, scream-inducing excitement.

north carolina sliding rock
nc sliding rock fun
girls sliding rock scream

A good example of this happened tonight when we took all the remaining Middlers and Seniors to Sliding Rock. If you haven’t heard of it, Sliding Rock is a natural water slide formed by Looking Glass Creek as it tumbles about 60 feet over a slope of granite. Over millennia the water has worn the rock smooth so that it’s possible to sit in the water at the top and slide along until plunging into a pool at the bottom.

Not only possible, it’s practical too. Hundreds of people, in fact, make the slide everyday. We arrived tonight past when it had officially closed to the public. This is our routine, and our preference. We can provide our own lifeguards, counselors to help the campers settle into the water at the top of the rock, and set a good “Rockbrook Vibe” when we have the place to ourselves.

That means lots of cheering and the occasional RBC line song sung. As girls wait for their turn to slide, they have a perfect view of others sliding, so there’s plenty of laughing and shouts of encouragement too. You can imagine, the whole scene is loud: crashing waterfall, screaming sliders, and cheering spectators.

The feeling of adventure is clear as soon as the girls sit down in the water at the top of the rock and feel it splashing on their backs. It looks tall from up there! Of course, the temperature of the water is “refreshing” too. That’s when eyes widen and mouths open to let out wild screams. The water pushes, and soon they are accelerating down the rock heading to the splash landing below. We encourage the girls to slide in pairs, adding to the fun. As they twist, spin and sometimes topple down the rock for several seconds, they scream even more, squint, and hold their noses at the last second. It’s so thrilling, and so much fun, they are quick to zip around and slide again. Most girls want to slide more than one time, with 2 or 3 being about right.

This is good simple fun. It’s classic camp fun too. We take a bunch of girls who know each other really well— they’re friends in the best sense of the word —and let them experience a little daring adventure together. The encouragement and the support of the group kicks in and soon we have girls feeling thrilled. The natural features of Sliding Rock, and a positive group is all it takes to create a memorable fun experience. Pretty cool!

On the drive out of the Forest, we took it one step further and stopped at Dolly’s Dairy bar so everyone could enjoy a cup or cone of their favorite flavor of ice cream. Having a Dolly’s treat is a big deal at camp, so we make sure every camper has a chance to experience it. They have “the best ice cream in the world,” many girls have assured to me. Long ago Dolly’s created special “camp flavors” by contracting special blends and naming them after many of the local camps. “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion” is a unique chocolate flavor with fudge and small peanut butter cups. There’s a flavor based on s’mores, one reminiscent of key lime pie, and another that tastes like strawberry cheesecake. All of them are delicious. This is why part of the fun of going to Dolly’s is deciding which flavor to try. It’s also why so many families plan a trip to Dolly’s on closing day. You should plan on it too!

three teenagers at dollys

The Three Rules of Pranking

A few 9th graders grabbed me the other day to ask me a question. They had something on their mind and had heard that I needed to “approve” it. They were plotting a prank, specifically a prank on the 10th grade Hi-Up campers. They wanted to know if their idea for this prank would be “allowed.”

girl hiding behind a fern
pre-teen rifle shooting girl
young girl displaying her painting

Over the years, we’ve identified a few principles I have now come to call, “The Three Rules of Pranking.” Essentially, pranks are allowed if all three of these rules are true. So when these campers asked me, “Is pranking allowed at Rockbrook?” They were surprised to hear me say, “Yes, as long as you follow the three rules of pranking.”

So what are these pranking rules?

  1. The prank must be in the spirit of Rockbrook. That is to say, it must not be mean, insulting, or intended to ridicule or shame any person or group. Pranks should be funny, but not at the expense of anyone’s feelings.
  2. The prank must be something that can be undone; it cannot cause permanent damage. In other words, a prank cannot break anything, or ruin anyone’s property.
  3. The prankster or pranksters must be willing to help undo the prank if asked to do so. This can include cleaning.

 

That’s it! These are pretty simple rules, and when I explain them to campers, they immediately understand them. These particular 9th graders nodded their heads and said, “that makes sense.” It’s easy for them to imagine how unpleasant it would be to be pranked in a way that broke any of these rules. Nobody wants to be singled out and laughed at. Nobody wants their stuff messed up, and nobody wants to be stuck cleaning up something they didn’t cause.

The girls appreciate these rules too because instead of a long list of prohibited behaviors, the rules allow a great deal of creative freedom. When discussing the rules, you can see it on their faces. These wannabe pranksters are thinking of examples and modifying their ideas according to the rules. It seems like the girls appreciate that Rockbrook trusts them to adhere to the rules, and they gladly accept the responsibility for doing that.

Often, the girls still want me to “approve” their pranking ideas. They ask, “Would it be OK if we….?” And I often dodge that sort of question because I want them to be responsible for what they decide to do. I want them to think about whether their prank will follow the rules. They shouldn’t need me to figure that out. That’s how I answer. I ask them, “does you prank follow the three rules? If yes, then it’s fine.”

So what sort of pranks happen at Rockbrook? I hesitate to say much about this, not wanting to plant any ideas in the minds of a budding prankster out there. One classic example, however, comes to mind: moving a cabin’s dining hall table and chairs to another part of camp, and leaving a “ransom note” about where to find it. On multiple occasions in years past, groups of girls have eaten their breakfast sitting cross-legged on the floor of the dining hall because their table has vanished, only to be found later at lakefront, in the gym, or down at the landsports field. This kind of prank takes a lot of muscle to pull off, but is always an impressive feat. I hope you can see how it clearly abides by the RBC pranking rules.

Today was a rafting day. We again took a double trip down the Nantahala River, giving the remaining Middlers and Seniors their chance to experience the chilly thrill of whitewater. We were a bit worried about the weather as a cold front was moving through, but both trips ended up dodging the rain and having great conditions. Be sure to take a look at the photo gallery because there’s an entire album of shots from the trips. You’ll be able to see how much fun the girls had bouncing around in the boats, the delightfully silly socializing that went on, and the wide-eyed look of adventure on their faces as they blasted through the final rapid. Here are a couple of examples. Click each photo to see it enlarged.

If camp is about trying new things, being together as a community of friends, and developing a more confident sense of self, then these girls are completely on track. Pranks or no pranks, they are having a great time at camp.

Great summer camp pals