Little Paths at Twilight

My favorite part of everyday is Twilight– the time at camp between dinner and Evening Program. Our themed dinners, special trips, or crazy songs aside, dinnertime is pretty self-explanatory. At Evening Program, girls from different age groups retreat to their respective lodges to put on silly skits before ending the day with the traditional Goodnight Circle song and the Rockbrook Prayer.

view of NC mountains at sunset

While these other parts of the day are fun, I feel such a deep sense of love and appreciation for camp at Twilight. The day’s activities have brought the girls out of their shells: Juniors chase each other down the hill in front of their lodge; the tetherball pole hosts a crowd of audience members and competitors; and others enjoy quirky activities put on by counselors. Many times, Evening Program brings a special event that was announced during dinner and girls busily dress up accordingly during Twilight.

Camp girls lounging

Tonight’s Twilight was particularly wonderful. Everyone felt energized after our first full day of camp with the new group of mini-session campers, and the newly arrived campers clearly felt more settled in after an exciting day of trying new things and getting familiar with cabin mates and counselors.

One group of counselors brought biodegradable soap down to the creek for “Mermaid Baths.” Campers bounced down the hill in their bathing suits to soap up their hair, feet, and arms in the cold water. Note: We have made sure that campers know that these do not substitute actual bathing, no matter how much more fun the process!

outdoor yoga kids

Another group circled around one another to do yoga. I watched them take in the mountain view from the top of the hill as they practiced tree poses. They giggled as they tried to keep their balance, occasionally using each other to stay standing on one foot.

Two Junior cabins used Twilight to prepare for their Junior Overnight, which departed right as the bell rang for Evening Program. Most had finished packing early and sat enjoying the sunset for the second half of their free time. I spotted them at the ready, sitting among their sleeping bags, pillows, and stuffed animals.

Castle Rock at twlight

Everything stopped at a certain point during tonight’s Twilight, though. From the hill, we heard “Hello, Rockbrook!” and looked up to discover three or four little figures at the top Castle Rock, the rock face on camp that is a short hike away! Some Hi-Up campers have hiked to the top every single day this session with one of their counselors, and they provided us with a greeting to celebrate. We shouted back, “Hello, Castle Rock!” and girls on the hill waved their arms and delighted in being able to see them wave back.

If you ask me, the best place to enjoy Twilight’s cool golden glow and the merriment on the hill is from Hiker’s Rock. It’s this view of camp that I miss whenever I’m somewhere else, reciting a poem to myself in my head that we read at Spirit Fire.

“You may think my dear, when you grow quite old
you have left your camp days behind
but I know the scent of woodsmoke
will always call to mind
little paths at twilight
and trails you used to find.”
—Mary S. Edgars, To A Camper

Role Modeling Collaboration

On Monday I was so impressed with our older girls. The CA campers hiked in the Dupont State Forest to pick the theme of the end-of-session Banquet. As a lucky and eager bystander, I saw girls go into the adventure with an open mind, include everyone in the process, and come to a consensus that they were able to literally jump for joy about.

The drive over to the forest starts off with a pep talk from our Director and trip leader, Jeff Carter, who explains that the campers should mention as many ideas as possible during the drive. The counselors in each of the vehicles act as scribes and record everything— no matter how silly, far-fetched, or seemingly unpopular the ideas.

Teen camp girls meeting

This brainstorming session is one of my favorite parts, because the process immediately becomes hilarious with fake themes, such as “Cheese” or “Potato Banquet.” (I heard one idea of the “Non-Banquet,” where they would decorate the walls with paper and just paint the paper with what is usually behind the paper on a normal day. Breaking away from tradition, there wouldn’t be soda or candy served. We all agreed, however, that this wouldn’t be funny after about 10 minutes in real life…)

It is through the laughter and lack of filters that the girls generate very legitimate, good lists of ideas! We arrive in the parking lot of our hike and begin to share the lists that were split between the vehicles, thrilled that the final decision might be hidden on one of the sheets of paper. Here, the counselors read out their lists, and, after indulging in their first reactions, the girls start to narrow the list before setting off onto the trail. (Unfortunately, the fake themes are crossed off.)

As we hike up to our final destination, top contenders for the theme start to emerge. I hear girls hearing one another out as different voices discuss pros and cons of each proposed theme. Other ideas fall to the wayside that many girls were betting on before hearing others’ thoughts. Most importantly, outgoing girls resist the urge to dominate the conversation, and everyone works to be equally involved, respectfully taking turns to speak. If you ask me, I think that many people in this world would learn a lot from these girls and how’ve they’ve learned to come to decisions.

creative camp girls

Without giving the theme away, I’ll tell you that the theme will allow the girls to have their personalities reflected in each aspect of Banquet Night. It gives them wiggle room to create a new world in the Dining Hall, without inundating them with too much work. In talking to them afterwards, they’re most excited about seeing how their creativity will make the theme unique, spending time with one another on the project, watching the younger campers’ reactions as they enter the Dining Hall on Banquet Night, and, of course, celebrating their success with pizza and ice cream afterwards.

Unbreakable Sisterhood

This Sunday’s chapel set the perfect tone going into the last week of camp for our Second Session campers. The theme was “We’re All in This Together.” Yes, it may sound like one of our favorite High School Musical songs (which was, indeed, performed during the service), but it was an opportunity to remind ourselves of the family that exists for us at camp even after we leave, as we get ready to say goodbye.

goofy teen girls
smiling teen girls
teen girls smile

Forever friendship is a an undeniably powerful, recurring aspect of camp. Just listen to a few of our songs: “And when we say farewell, it shall not mean goodbye. The spark we lit at Rockbrook we know in ages ne’er will die;” “Turn around and we are strangers, turn around and we are friends, turn around and we are sisters forever to be.”

An important part of this connection between Rockbrook girls that was talked about in chapel is that we don’t have to see each other that often to maintain this bond. Also, because of the shared treasured experiences that we’ve all had, sometimes we don’t need to know each other very well at first to feel like sisters. For instance, I’m thrilled to meet Rockbrook girls at reunions or run into them outside of camp, because I know that this person just gets it. Without being particularly similar at all, there’s a little spark when you’re together and you both know you’re on the same team. Like a camper said during chapel, “After you leave camp, you know there’s a Rockbrook family who’s always going to have your back.”

But don’t just take my word for it! Read a speech from one of our older campers, Annie, who was selected by her counselors to speak about the theme:

Hi. If you don’t already know me, my name is Annie and this is my 8th year at camp. When asked to speak today about the theme, “We’re all in this together,” I suppose you could say that I was hesitant. Not because I didn’t have anything to say or because I don’t believe this theme applies to camp, which I do by the way. The real reason I was hesitant is due to having too much to say and not enough time or courage to stand in front of you to recite the past 8 wonderful years to y’all.

When thinking about this theme though, I feel the necessity to look back to my first day as a Rockbrook girl and how I was embraced into the welcoming, compassionate, and completely understanding community. I was just another 7 year old who was afraid of her own shadow, a complete homebody, and was unwilling to personally embrace the change of environments away from all I knew. This all changed when I immediately entered a circle of friendship and all my doubts dissipated. I soon learned that my cabin mates were going through the same experiences as me of leaving home, being placed into new circumstances, as well as being taken in with open arms. That was my first realization at camp that I was not alone, but that we are all in this together.

When I think of camp, I think of a community and a family. We have an unspoken code between friends and family, through the thick and thin of life. Rockbrook girls have stuck together since 1921. Generations of girls connected spanning the globe. Remember to embrace one another, look at each other with compassion, and most importantly remember that we’re all in this together, whatever that may be. Rockbrook girls stick together.

Blast from the Past: “A Life Highlight”

Director of Rockbrook, Sarah Carter, handed me a letter yesterday, while we were winding down from the Jedi Training Academy event and such an incredible Mini Session Opening Day.

At this point, I was still smiley and filthy from both parts of the day, covered in shaving cream, paint, and mud and with “I am your father” written across my forehead. I was in the office and about to settle in for the night, not expecting such a magical surprise to unfold. But I could tell the letter was special by the way Sarah looked at me when she said, “Read this.”

historic girls camp uniforms

The letter was written by a 90-something year old Rockbrook girl, and it reads: “When my children were old enough to be interested in my own childhood during the Depression, my favorite story was the 8 weeks at Rockbrook Camp in 1938. I was in the 8th grade that year and my mother told me I had a choice: 1) The 10 day trip to Washington D.C. in the spring, or 2) Rockbrook for 8 weeks. Sports has always been my greatest interest in life — The decision was easy.”

She really must have been an incredible athlete! For part of the letter, she describes the awards she remembers receiving, still thrilled after all this time: The awards were given “at the last evening campfire where the owner gave the awards and we all cried our eyes out. I still have my 3 ribbons! Red and blue in Tennis and yellow in Diving!” Although we no longer give out awards on the last night of camp, it seems that not much has changed in terms of how emotional the last campfire, Spirit Fire, can be!

vintage girls camp costume

What truly stuck me was the line, “Rockbrook was a life highlight.” I keep saying it to myself today, getting a little teary-eyed and trying to wrap my head around it… I have a million questions for her about what those 8 weeks were like for her and what kind of impact Rockbrook had on her.

She closes her letter by informing us that her daughter had heard someone mention Rockbrook in Maine last week, which compelled her to write the letter. We’ll continue to ponder who this mystery person in Maine could’ve been and are thrilled to write back to our 1938 Rockbrook girl shortly!

***In honor of this special “blast from the past” history edition blog-post, I’ve included some vintage pictures that I recently found that belonged to the founder of Rockbrook, Nancy Carrier.

log cabin postcard NC
historic summer camp lodge

Getting Back to Basics

Tonight two junior cabins embarked on their very own Junior Overnight. This special trip is reserved just for our youngest campers, and the girls get to venture a short distance into the woods with their counselors, make s’mores, sing campfire songs, and hear stories. For some of our youngest girls, the Junior Overnight is their only opportunity to leave camp and sleep outside, and it’s a major highlight of the session for them.

The announcement was made during dinner: “Junior One and Five cabins, what’re your plans for tonight?!” The two groups looked puzzled being asked this question in front of the entire camp, completely unprompted. “We don’t know… ,” said one girl in the back. “YOU’RE GOING ON YOUR JUNIOR OVERNIGHT TONIGHT!!!” As soon as I declared the news, the girls squealed with excitement. Their time had finally come!

Junior girls camping

The girls wiggled into their pajamas and packed after dinner, running up to their cabins as they remembered water bottles, bug spray, or a critical stuffed animal before we left. Once we made it out to the outpost, I immediately started making the fire. One curious camper asked me to explain each step, which I was thrilled to do. Afterwards, the campers inhaled some s’mores and learned some new songs, including my personal favorite, the Cider Song.

For bedtime, after some discussion of sleeping arrangements and keeping spiders away, I read the girls a story about a girl who snuck cookies to her pet cow and another about a girl who dreamt of going to the moon. Most of the campers fell asleep before I was asked to tell “a Chelsea original,” which featured a little redbird who traveled the world helping others. 

vintage camping ladies

Full disclosure, I love this trip. My most treasured camp memories involve sleeping outside, eating something by a fire, hearing a funny story from a Director or counselor, and overcoming a little nervousness about a bug potentially crawling on me during bedtime. It was those particular experiences that brought me back as a counselor years later.

The Junior Overnight entails what summer camp is meant to be in its simplest form—quality time with friends in nature, away from modern conveniences. In my opinion, for these reasons, the simple little trip also celebrates the very reasons Rockbrook was founded.

A Brave Day

Today marked the first day of activities for Second Session! After receiving a warm welcome from counselors and fellow campers yesterday, new and returning Rockbrook girls got a big dose of “new” today– activities, responsibilities, places to sleep, places to go, morning chores, and more. I was reminded today that, with all of this unfamiliarity, the girls show so much bravery.

little girl archers

For example, I had the privilege of working with the archery instructors today. Dutifully learning each safety command and step, junior campers used bows as big as they are. They worked hard for their results and cheered for each other from behind the firing line. One girl hit the target on her fifth try, smiling to say, “Wow– That’s a satisfying sound!”

The much older CA campers challenged themselves today, as well. All 30 of them collaborated and took a leap of faith to choose a theme for their end-of-camp Banquet. (No, I won’t tell you what it is. You’ll have to wait and see…) When they returned to camp, they got started on talking through logistics and planning how to make their vision come to life.

camp friends sitting in camp chairs

The oldest campers, the Hi-Ups, dove into their many day-to-day tasks for the first time: Just to mention a few things,they assisted counselors in teaching activities, set all of the tables in the dining hall for every meal, rang the bell throughout the day, and walked other campers to the harder-to-locate barn for horseback riding.

Especially at the beginning of each session, younger girls overcome things that scare them a bit at first. Older campers and counselors learn how to give back to a place that has given them so much and find joy in learning how to create the magic for others.

Somehow, across the board, people don’t stop growing at Rockbrook– It’s a place that feels like home but keeps you on your feet with more and more to discover.

Happiness Has A Special Place

Sundays at Rockbrook are a wonderful mix of relaxing, contemplative, messy, and wild. We broke with our “normal” schedule of activities and trips, of course. We began with a rising bell at 9:00 AM, sleeping in a whole hour later, to stagger right to breakfast. The campers indulged in skipping morning chores and finding Krispy Kreme donuts waiting for them on their tables.

While some would argue that sleeping in is the best part of the Sunday schedule, I love the flag raising on the hill conducted by our oldest campers, the Hi-Ups. We begin by circling around the flagpole, and today we were met with a warm breeze and sunshine. In line with tradition, the girls pledge allegiance to the flag and then sing “America the Beautiful” before filing to chapel in respectful silence. The CA’s, who use the last cabin on the walk to chapel to plan the end-of-session Banquet, all stand in front of their secret space to guard it.

camp children of alumnae

Today’s chapel theme was “Special Places,” and it was camper-led, from the programs’ art to the agenda inside of it. The Junior and Middler campers used the week to plan which songs, speakers, quotes, poems, and stories to include. One camper brought tears to our eyes as she spoke about happiness as a special place, in light of the normal ups and downs of life. Many talked about why Rockbrook was theirs: They can be themselves, are relieved of the pressures and routines of home or school, and make long-lasting friendships.

We followed this low-key morning with a hearty, thanksgiving-style lunch. (There was turkey, cranberry sauce, lima beans, potatoes, and tofu for the vegetarians. Everyone loved it so much that we sang our special song of appreciation to the cooks!) Good thing the girls had bellies full of food… After rest hour, we surprised them with a special scavenger hunt that had them zigzagging all over camp looking for clues to win ice cream for their cabins!

shaving creamed girls

The campers eventually settled in the gym, in front of a giant screen, for movie night after an epic shaving cream fight. Surprisingly clean after such chaos, the girls brought their coziest blankets, stuffed animals, and pillows. They squealed in celebration when they found out that we were watching Moana and sang along to the soundtrack. Full disclosure, after I left to retrieve their nighttime snack, I could hear them singing from the other side of camp. Sunday ended on the perfect note when everyone came together at the end for our “Goodnight Circle” routine.

Simple Magical Moments

After the arrival of our mini-session campers, I have been made more and more aware of the simple magical moments of Rockbrook, enhanced by the campers themselves: At breakfast, a sea of girls bumped around the dining hall to work together in teams to clean their tables. I delighted in watching campers skip across the rocks to go down the slide for the first time while I lifeguarded. As the sun set, I was lucky enough to hear a symphony of giggles coming from cabins while the girls planned skits for Evening Program. I am so grateful to these new campers to add to such an amazing group of girls for first session!

We celebrated the mini-session campers’ arrival by declaring today as Crazy Hair Day! There’s no such thing as a normal day at camp, and girls sure did flex their creative, confident, and unique muscles with this one… I spotted ponytails, wigs, and frizz thereafter as girls went to the activities they got to sign up for last night.

night camp site

My favorite part of the day was towards the end, however. Last week, two cabins won a special prize that they were finally able to claim tonight… S’mores! After the senior campers wrapped up their evening skits and nightly “goodnight circle” routine, we marched over to Vesper Rock to build a fire. This is the ideal campfire spot, which overlooks our lake and has a view of the senior girls’ lodge. One of the girls who adores the wilderness helped make the fire with little trouble at all. Having been on many off-camp trips and taken numerous nature-related activities at Rockbrook, she confidently delegated tasks to the rest of the group and gave us pointers for next time.

Nighttime was in full swing when we got the fire started. The campfire was our only light source as we sang some favorites: Little Willie, the Cider Song, Midnight Train, and Take a Little Bit of Ginger. As other girls prepared for bed, they enjoyed their nighttime snacks, listening to a silly story told by one of their fellow campers.

Meanwhile, another lucky group of younger campers hunkered down to listen to a bedtime story by one of our beloved Directors, Sofie. I know that they had fun listening to her animated style, and I’m thrilled that we get to keep making memories with these girls through their cabins’ very own special treats. Next on the agenda, we have older campers lined up to stargaze on the hill with a telescope on a clear night soon and the oldest campers plunge into the cold lake early in the morning.

wet camp counselors
star wars sign

             

In the more routine days of camp, without big events like Jedi Training Academy or Nickelodeon Surprise Night, I’m reminded that girls are learning what it means to find joy in simple moments and true quality time with friends. I can’t wait for more magic to unfold tomorrow and throughout the session, via little and big surprises, silliness, and being unapologetically present.