Succeeding at Failure

Kayaking Success

When I was a junior in high school, my drama teacher set my class two challenges, each designed to get us thinking creatively:

  1. Write down as many uses for a brick as you can think of.
  2. Draw three creatures that do not exist, and that are combinations of a bunch of different animals. Use as much detail as you can.
Thinking Creatively

The first challenge was a cinch. I’ve been writing fiction ever since I could hold a pen, and still can switch on daydreams as real as a TV show whenever I get bored. If you ask me to use my imagination to think up impossible things, I’m on solid ground.

Sure, I listed the usual (boring) uses for a brick: house construction, paperweight, impromptu dumb-bell, etc. But then came the fun ones: a piece of a giant’s Lego set, an impenetrable fortress for ant-armies, Twinkie-holder, napkin ring at a brick-layers’ convention, etc.

All this is to say, if you’re looking for something to do with that pile of bricks you have lying around your house for some reason, I’m your girl.

But then came challenge number two. Sure I could think of imaginary animals—how about a zebra-striped cow, with the head of a horse, the legs of a mini-elephant, and the horns of a water buffalo? Oh, and it can talk like a parrot! Oh, and maybe it can jump like a kangaroo! Oh yeah, the ideas were coming fast.

There was just one problem. I can’t draw. Not at all. Even stick figures are a struggle for me. I stared at that blank piece of paper, listening to the excited pencil-scratching coming from my neighbors’ desks, and my cheeks began to burn. I was the only one not drawing.

Venturing Out

I just sat there, with my head down, until the activity was over. I couldn’t even let myself try. I couldn’t even permit a doodle. I couldn’t take the risk that the beautiful image I had in my head might not translate onto paper. Better to be scolded by my teacher for failing to complete the activity, than for it to be known that I might be less than excellent at something. So I just sat there, almost in tears, until the papers were collected.

I’ve thought about that moment a lot since then. Why hadn’t I even tried? Why had I assumed the result would be that horrible, without taking the simple step of just beginning? Why had I decided by the end of elementary school that I Am Not An Artist? End of story, no question about it, no need to try.

So many times, both in camp and out of camp, I see young girls give up on things before they’ve even begun.

“No, I can’t take pottery, I’m not artsy.”

“No way am I going to try out for basketball, I’m not athletic at all.”

“I can’t take the swim test. I’ve never been much of a swimmer.”

Taking the Leap

Somehow, it has become part of our mindset that our talents, our levels of intelligence and understanding, and our potential for achievement are set in stone from the very beginning. The thoughts that were racing through my mind that day in drama class consisted entirely of, I was bad at drawing in elementary school. Therefore, I am bad at drawing now. Therefore, I will always be bad at drawing, no matter how hard I try. Therefore, I should not try.

I know I’m not the only one that thinks this way. We have become so afraid of failure, because we think that that failure defines us even more than the successes that come afterwards. Sure, we know that da Vinci didn’t paint the Mona Lisa the first time he ever touched a paintbrush, and yet somehow we still think that if we fail the first time, then we will inevitably fail every time, with no shot at improvement.

But this is wrong. This is so wrong! Why should I, at 23 years old, have already decided which categories I belong in (Good Writer, Good Reader, Not-Good Drawer, Not-Good Dancer), and given up on changing any of them? Why should a 10 year old camper stand frozen at the edge of the dock on swim demo day, just because somebody told her one time that she wasn’t a very fast swimmer? Why should we throw away the chance to surprise ourselves with new, enjoyable experiences, in an attempt to save our pride from the sting of failure?

Dancing Queens

So here’s the challenge (you knew this was coming): allow yourself to be bad at something once a day. It can be a brand new experience, or an old one that you gave up on long ago. If you’re a bad dancer, then dance like a crazy person with your friends, and laugh when they tell you you’re not so good. If you gave up on piano after one lesson, sit down and bang out “Chopsticks” on the keys, and laugh when you hit a bad note. If you have always wanted to be a poet, then write down that poem that you have bouncing around in your head, and then laugh when you realize it sounds more like a Hallmark Card than Emily Dickinson.

That’s right: laugh. Train yourself to find the joy in failure. When that sinking feeling comes along that tells you to run away from the challenge before it becomes too much, then laugh it away, and try again. And again. And again. And again. Sure, maybe you’ll never be dancing at center stage in Radio City Music Hall, or tickling the ivories like Stevie Wonder, or becoming the next US Poet Laureate—but hey, maybe you will. You’ll never know unless you embrace the possibility that you might just fail, and then go for it anyway.

As for me, I’m still not a great drawer. But I hope that Mr. McFarland will accept this late addition to the creativity project. May I present, the Zebreleffow:

The Zebreleffow

The Rockbrook Guide to Winter

If you are reading this right now, then you are more than likely caught in the midst of the Polar Vortex. And while it’s true that “Polar Vortex” sounds like the rejected title for a cheesy sci-fi novel, the reality of icy arctic winds swirling their way down from Santa’s workshop to where you sit this very moment is enough to make anyone long for an end to winter.

Last Tuesday, each and every US State had temperatures fall below freezing (true, you had to climb to the top of the highest mountain in Hawaii to find temperatures of 21 degrees, but it totally still counts). This means that, at some point in the last few days, every American Rockbrook camper (including me) has been bundled up against the cold, dreaming of warmer days. To those campers who are warm and snug in the balmy southern hemisphere: oh, how we envy you.

It’s not that winter doesn’t have it’s perks. What’s not to love about hot chocolate, crackling fires, and quiet evenings spent indoors with your family? Winter gives us an opportunity to slow down, appreciate the small things, and enjoy the quiet.

Still though, this Polar Vortex business might be taking this whole “winter” thing a bit too far. Sure, catching snowflakes on your eyelashes is one of life’s beautiful joys—but watching icicles slowly accumulate there is less enjoyable. True, everybody loves bundling up in cozy winter clothes—but when frost begins to weigh down your fur-covered boots, and you begin stomping around like you’re transforming into a Yeti from the toes up, suddenly those clothes are a bit less glamorous.

But, never fear, chilly Rockbrook-ers! Nothing brightens a gloomy day like a smidge of camp cheer—and lucky for us all, that camp cheer is available to us even in the Polar Vortex-iest of days. All you have to do is take some of those classic camp staples, and give them a little tweak, and voila! Winterized Rockbrook!

1. S’mores Hot Chocolate

S'mores Hot Chocolate


Oh yeah, you read that right. Hot chocolate AND s’mores, in one stunningly delicious concoction. We all know that camp just isn’t camp without those three heavenly ingredients coming together at least once to form the most perfect three-bite snack in the history of both bites and snacks. But why should you wait until summer comes around to enjoy this beautiful treat? There are tons of recipes out there for S’mores Hot Chocolate, but this one is absolutely the most delicious.

2. Chevron Scarf

Needlecraft

Needlecraft is one of my favorite activities at camp. What could be more peaceful than sitting on the shady back porch of Curosty, listening to the stream ripple past, and knitting up some Christmas presents for your family? Quiet, cozy winter evenings give you the perfect opportunity to work on your needlecraft skills. And you don’t have to choose just one boring old color for that scarf you’re working on (unless it’s Rockbrook Red—Rockbrook Red is never boring). We like to spend our summers perfecting all sorts of exciting patterns for friendship bracelets—why not use one of those? Find a knitting pattern for a chevron patterned scarf, which can remind you all winter of those beautiful bracelets that your mom made you cut off in October because they were kind of starting to smell.

3. Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Muffin Break

Every coffee shop in the country spends all winter throwing pumpkin flavoring into every drink and snack they offer, but we all know that the best pumpkin-flavored snacks are the little morsels that our camp-baker-extraordinaire (Katie) cooks up for muffin break. I talked to Katie yesterday, and she pointed me in the direction of a pumpkin chocolate chip muffin recipe that is almost identical to hers. I know this post is supposed to be about “winterizing” camp traditions, but let’s be honest, there’s no need to winterize muffins. Muffins are excellent at all times, and in all weathers. Of course, everyone knows that these muffins taste best when eaten outside in the sunshine, after a morning of camp activities, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make a gloomy winter day a little more delicious.

4. Campfire Bonding

Campfire

What are the three most important elements of a campfire? Being with people that you love, some good music, and, of course, a fire. There’s no law that says a campfire has to be outside. All you have to do is start up a fire in your fireplace, gather around it with your family and friends, leave those cell phones and computers far, far away, and just enjoy being with one another. And don’t forget to sing. Whether you’re singing Christmas carols, old camp songs, or the latest offering from T-Swift, there’s nothing quite like singing to chase away the bite of winter, and remind you that summer can’t be far away.

This is the time of year is when camp starts to feel furthest away from us—it seems like a horribly long time since we’ve been there, and an even more horribly long time until we get to be there again. But even on those coldest days, when the news is filled with headlines about “Polar Vortexes,” “Snowmaggedons,” and “Snowpocalypses,” the spirit of camp is never really that far from us. Sure, throwing on our swimsuits and jumping into the lake isn’t really an option, and it’s probably not the best idea to go white water rafting, or to have a shaving cream fight, but all it takes is a little creativity, and you can give any boring old winter day a bit of camp flare. And these aren’t the only ideas out there—if you can think of any other ways to give winter a camp-y twist, feel free to post them in the comments section, or on the Rockbrook Facebook page!

So enjoy your snow days, fellow Rockbrook-ers—summer will be here before you know it!

Camp Fun

Throwback Thursday: A Day in the Life of a 1926 Camper

Campers 1926

The rising bell tolls at 7:15 and you open your eyes, eager to start another day at Rockbrook Camp for Girls. You and your cabin-mates jump out of your low cots and slip into your thick, black, woolen swim suits. You pour out of your cabin and join the other girls of the camp as, blinking sleep from their eyes, they make their way to the lake for the morning dip.

Corn 1926

The water is as cold as ever, but by the time you emerge, the allure of going back to bed has left you completely. You are fully awake. You run back up the hill with your cabin-mates, while your counselors (local schoolteachers, camp-mothers, and the like) follow more slowly behind. You only have twenty minutes to put on your uniform and get ready for the day, before you are due in the Dining Hall to help set up for breakfast.

As you put on your billowy gray bloomers, and your white blouse and tie, smells from the Dining Hall begin to reach your cabin. The cooks have been up for hours already, gathering the vegetables from Mr. Carrier’s giant garden at the bottom of the hill, milking the camp cows for fresh milk, and collecting eggs from the camp chickens.

Cabin 1926

Breakfast passes quickly. Quiet songs are sung at breakfast—every camper and counselor joins in, weaving together a peaceful harmony of voices. You all gather on the hill for Morning Assembly—a sea of girls in white, red, and gray, whispering amongst themselves, and trying not to catch the attention of the counselors. Mrs. Carrier leads the camp in the morning prayer, then reads out the lists of hiking and canoeing trips leaving camp today. You know that your name isn’t on any of the lists, so rather than listening, you spend your time planning out which activities you’ll do today. Horseback riding, perhaps, or maybe weaving and a bit of canoeing.

Assembly gets out a little early, so you and your cabin-mates race back to the cabin, to spruce the place up before 10 o’clock Inspection. You spend five breathless minutes shoving your sopping swimsuits under your beds, and smoothing your sheets, until the cabin looks spotless.

Garden 1926

You pass inspection, thank goodness. The rest of your morning is a blur of horseback riding, tennis, and swimming. Lunch is succulent—every vegetable, fruit, and piece of meat is taken from the Rockbrook farm, so it is all as fresh and filling as you could wish.

During Rest Hour, you can’t bring yourself to rest. You are too excited for the afternoon, when you will practice for the dance pageant that you and a few other campers will perform at the end of the session. The counselors have spent the last week sewing the fairy costumes out of old pillowcases, and today is the first day you get to try them on.

Dancers 1926

You’re the first person to arrive at the rehearsal in the Hillside Lodge, and you immediately begin changing into the costume. It’s a relief, really, to trade the hot, scratchy bloomers for the lighter cotton shift. Most of the girls take ballet at home, but the dance is much less formal and more fun than any of you are used to. Mainly, it is an excuse to leap and run around for a few hours in clothes much more comfortable than the camp uniform. But still, the dance is coming together, and none of you can wait for the day that you get to perform it on the lawn of Mrs. Carrier’s house.

Dinner is boisterous—the heat of the day is ebbing away and the songs are spirited and loud. Some of the younger girls get carried away and begin banging on the tables in the rhythm of the song, but Mrs. Carrier puts a stop to that quickly.

Mrs. Carrier is always a fan of fun, you know, but she does expect her girls to behave themselves. The girls look sheepish, but Mrs. Carrier begins a rousing rendition of “Rockbrook Camp Forever,” which brings the smiles right back to their faces.

The lowering of the flag after dinner is a solemn affair, as it always is. Mrs. Carrier leads the camp in the evening prayer: “Oh God, give us clean hands, clean words, clean thoughts…” When she is finished, she returns to her house for the evening, and the counselors start up a big game of freeze-tag on the hill.

At 8:30, when your eyelids are beginning to feel heavy, and your footsteps beginning to drag, you make your way to the lodge for milk and crackers. By 9:00, you are dressed in your nightgown in your cabin, holding hands in a circle with your cabin-mates, singing “Taps” softly to one another.

As you lay your head on your pillow and listen to the songs of the crickets rise and swell through the forest around you, you can’t help but realize how lucky you are. Not every girl gets to escape the fast-paced modern world, to spend a few weeks of freedom in the mountains. Not every girl gets to let go of propriety and manners, and dance like a wild thing for an entire afternoon. Not every girl gets to have a perfect day, then go to bed knowing that the next day will be even better, and the next even better than that.

Dancer Silhouette

A Christmas Perm

Snowy Dining Hall

A Rockbrook Girl’s Night Before Christmas

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all round the world,

Were the coolest of cool, those great Rockbrook girls.

Their trunks were still packed in the corners of their rooms,

And they offered camp-colors to wintery gloom.

The world was a snow globe, all twinkling and white,

And the houses and halls were all decked in their lights.

Their tummies were warmed by hot chocolates and ciders,

And the girls never worried ‘bout snakes or wolf spiders.

The holiday season brought so much to love:

With ice skating, skiing, warm mittens and gloves,

With Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali,

With New Year’s, and Christmas with boughs of bright holly.

But while sugarplums danced in the heads of their friends,

And their brothers’ discussions of gifts would not end,

The campers they dreamed of a different time,

When the weather was warm and the company was fine.

They dreamed of the days spent beneath the hot sun,

Of laughter and joy and unstoppable fun.

They dreamed of old cabins of weathered brown wood,

Of the Dining Hall songs and the dinners so good.

For these girls have a place of which only they know,

A place that still calls them through sleet and through snow.

A queendom of summer, all wreathed in tall trees,

Governed by girls with dirty faces and knees.

A place of the Midget Man, Killroy, and Nancy,

A place where the costumes make everyone fancy.

A place where the coolest is she who sings loudest,

A place where the silliest is always the proudest.

There may be no presents, no Santas or stockings,

There may be no carolers on front doors knocking,

There may be no snowmen at that time of year,

But there’s no other time with more pep or more cheer.

It’s a time that’s for rollicking, frolicking joys,

A time just for girls, with no smelly old boys.

It’s a time that’s for hiking, for swimming, for climbing,

A time that’s for Honosorarius rhyming.

It’s a time when directors can be seen walking,

And always with counselors and campers are talking.

A time when sweet Sarah stands up at the mic,

And says to the list’ners in a voice kind and bright,

“Now campers! Now counselors! Now barn staff and nurses!

On paddlers! On crafters! On singers of verses!

To the top of the Tower and to Rockbrook Falls,

Now hike away, climb away, dance away all!

For this is your time, on this midsummer’s day,

And it shall be spent in your favorite way.

It’s a time that we treasure in all of our hearts,

A time full of many incredible parts.”

So campers, though you are now spread far and wide,

Though you may have grown older, left camp days behind,

Just think of dear Rockbrook, in days cold and dark,

And its spirit will bring summer’s warmth to your heart.

And the day will come soon, for you or your daughter,

When you both stand once more beside cold running water,

And listen to red birds sing high in the pine,

And hear sounds of Rockbrook down each merry line.

But for now, let me tell you, with heart full of joy,

That I wish you best wishes for you to enjoy.

May your holiday season be happy and bright,

Merry Christmas from Rockbrook; to all a goodnight!

All in the Family

Nancy Carrier's Niece at RBC

A couple of months ago, a very exciting visitor came to camp. Like many others, this visitor had spent her childhood at Rockbrook as a camper, then as a counselor—unlike many others, however, her memories of Rockbrook also extend to holidays spent in the Carrier House, playing fetch with Nancy Carrier’s Great Danes, and playing games of croquet on “Aunt Nan’s lawn.”

Nancy Lesesne is the daughter of Nancy Carrier’s brother, and therefore knew the Rockbrook founder, and her husband, intimately. It was wonderful hearing stories of the Carriers away from camp—how “Aunt Nan’s” Great Danes liked to jump through the open downstairs windows to get outside (understandably scaring to death anyone standing near those windows); how the children were forbidden to disturb “Uncle Henry” when he withdrew to his study with his newspaper to manage his stocks; how Aunt Nan would frequently take the children to see her great-grandfather PT Barnum’s circus, when it came to town.

Mrs. Lesesne was particularly amused to find out that nowadays the Carrier House is widely believed by the campers to be haunted. She said that she could not recall anything particularly supernatural happening in the house when she would stay there, but allowed that it always did look a bit spooky.

Mrs. Lesesne had not been at Rockbrook since her days as a counselor, yet still she remembered her way around perfectly. Though today there are new buildings, new landscaping, and even a new family running the camp, she said it still felt the same. More importantly, she commented that being at camp made her feel the same—that after all these years, coming to Rockbrook could still make her feel like an excited little girl coming home for the summer.

Carrier Niece in front of the Carrier House

For The Fun Of It

Searching for Tadpoles

“Non-competitive” is a word that gets a lot of use here at camp. It serves as a reminder to campers and staff alike to pursue camp activities for the joy of it—for the thrill of acquiring new skills, and embarking on new adventures—not for the sake of victory.

Rafters in the Mist

We do our best to bring this non-competitive flavor to every facet of camp life.  Every cabin gets their own unique “award” for their skits during Evening Program (“Best Break-Dancing Statue of Liberty,” and “Best Impression of a Watermelon” were some recent favorites of mine), every cabin gets a prize at the end of Counselor Hunt, and every girl even gets their own birthday cake on Birthday Night, so the fall-, winter-, and spring-babies aren’t left out.

It isn’t that we think competition is bad. On the contrary, competition can be exciting, enriching, and even wholesome in the right setting. What we do try to promote at camp, though, that might be different from the messages of schools and sports teams, is replacing the drive to win with the drive to accomplish.

Teamwork in the Lake

We encourage our campers to accomplish as much as possible in their time at camp. We offer reams of friendship-bracelet designs of increasing complexity for them to try their hands at. We coax tentative swimmers into swimming class, so they can work on their strokes with the lifeguards. We stand patiently at the bottom of the Alpine Tower, to talk nervous climbers all the way to the top. That heady sense of awe and disbelief when a camper achieves something she didn’t think she would be capable of is one of the greatest parts of the camp experience, and usually occurs in each girl at least once when she’s here.

While we encourage accomplishments like these whenever we can, we also do our best to take away the push and pressure to achieve them. We let girls work at their own pace, for example, and allow them to drop activities that don’t interest them after just three days, rather than forcing them to continue, as might happen in a school. We help them to enjoy the process as much as the result, to gain more from the experience than from the prizes at the end.

Dancing to "Grease"
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

More importantly, we also try to strip away the urge to “get there first” that can be so prevalent in the outside world. That is, we take away that need to get to the top before anyone else, and to win at the expense of everyone else, that can so dampen the fun of any activity.

A perfect demonstration of this came in our Miss RBC pageant Sunday afternoon. Each cabin spent last week crafting their very own cabin “talent” for the show, which could have been a dance, a song, a skit, or anything else they could think of. All last week, I saw cabins working during their free times, planning during meals, and scavenging costume bins around camp, all to create the perfect talent for Miss RBC.

Every camper participated, and gave their all, making it a truly spectacular show. There were elaborately choreographed dances to songs from “Mamma Mia,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” original songs about checking for lice and the joys of camp, and one wonderful skit put on by our youngest campers, acting out one of our favorite camp songs, “I’m a Little Coconut.”

Skipping

The most remarkable thing about the show, though, was the genuine enthusiasm with which each cabin cheered for all the others. Each cabin seemed thrilled simply to be able to put on their own talent for the rest of the camp, and derived just as much enjoyment from watching all the others’. There was no uneasiness when campers saw a cabin that did particularly well, and no jealousy or resentment displayed toward the cabin that ultimately won the pageant. Indeed, that cabin found themselves surrounded by well-wishers as soon as the show was finished. The winning cabin was proud, of course, that they had won, but I heard more of them complimenting the other cabins on their talents than touting their own accomplishment.

Camp, of course, is a unique environment, but I always hope that this is a lesson that our campers take with them into the outside world. That something should be created, a task achieved, or a goal accomplished, simply for the satisfaction of accomplishing it, rather than for the attendant recognition and glory.

Easy Living

Namaste Yoga

I am constantly amazed by the intellect, creativity, and sheer drive to achieve shown by Rockbrook girls. They all love to talk to us about their after-school activities—the sports they play, the clubs they join, the books they read, and the milestones they accomplish. We have champion runners, volleyball players, and speech-and-debaters; members of volunteer organizations, bands, and church youth groups; aspiring fashion designers, architects, and actresses.

This astounding variety of talents in our campers is part of what makes our camp such a fascinating place to be. In any given conversation, you never know what viewpoints and past experiences you will be faced with. It offers all of us here the chance to learn from everyone else around us.

Peace and Quiet creek

Despite the pride with which campers display their talents and discuss their achievements, though, I get the sense that one of the primary joys of camp is that this is a place where they get to throw away their after-school schedule for a few weeks. Though we offer runners the chance to run (in the Marathon Club), swimmers the chance to swim (in the Mermaid Club), and artists the chance to create in a multitude of classes, we make it our goal to strip away the competition and the pressure to achieve that can so often be found in schools and sports teams.

Parents often express surprise when their camper, who is perhaps constantly taking part in theater at home, opts not to do the play, or when a track star chooses to join up with Rockbrook Readers during free swim rather than Rockbrook Runners.

Chillin' in the Lake

When I ask such girls why they put aside their hobbies at camp, their answers are remarkably similar. They maintain that they still love their extracurriculars, and look forward to restarting their practices after camp—but they also seem to relish the peace and quiet of camp. They enjoy the chance to craft their own schedules, then wipe the slate clean after three days, and make a new one. They delight in making a bowl in pottery, simply for the sake of making a bowl, not so that they can add another skill to their college resumes.

Lap loom weaving girl

More than anything, though, they enjoy the hours of free time we give them each day—the hours when they can simply lie in the sunshine on the hill, float in an inner tube in the lake, or chat with their friends. They need these few weeks of moving slowly, these days of quiet, these moments of easy living, to recharge for the pace and constant excitement of the outside world. They need to escape the pressures of their commitments, just for a little while, so that, when they return, they can face their lives with a fresh vigor, and return to us next year with a new slate of accomplishments under their belts.

Rockbrook Readers enjoy

Only the Beginning

First Camp Day at the Archery Range
Careful Stitching at camp

When asked what my favorite day of camp is (an unsurprisingly frequent question around here, considering the sheer number of exciting events that pepper our schedule), I almost always say Banquet Day. The final Tuesday of camp, two days before parents return to retrieve their daughters, thrums with mounting anticipation, as all but the oldest campers (or CA’s, who plan the event) mill about the outside of the closed-off Dining Hall, eager to find out the secret theme of the final Banquet. The girls have all become perfectly at ease with each other and with themselves by these final days of camp—they stroll through the camp that has come to feel like their very own in just a few short weeks, headed for one last dip in the lake, or to polish off the final coat of glaze on their piece de resistance in pottery.

In the evening, all that easiness lifts into jubilation, as the girls laugh through the Banquet skits put on by the CA’s, indulge in the delicious dinner and candy spread across the tables, and dance to the music coming through the loudspeakers. The campers know that this is their last chance to let loose and act goofy before the return to the real world, and you can sense their determination to make the most of it.

The sheer energy that pervades Banquet Day is what gives it the top spot in most Rockbrook girls’ camp memories—including mine. But walking through camp today, stopping in for a while on every activity I passed, I realized that the first full day of camp just might deserve some more acclaim.

Just Hangin' Around on a rope

The girls are nervous, sure, and certainly much quieter than they will be three weeks, two weeks, or even one week down the road. They explore this new space tentatively, poking heads through cabin doors, and quizzing passing counselors on which path leads to Nature Nook, and which leads to the barn. They still have their best manners on, those “please’s” and “ma’ams” that have guided them through long days at school. They place novice hands on looms, clay, and canoeing paddles, and laugh nervously when they stumble through their first tries.

But as the day goes on, if you pay close attention, you can see those polite shells that the girls have spent the whole school year crafting begin to crack. Smiles become quicker, laughs become louder, and footsteps on uneven mountain paths become surer.

You get to watch as the campers realize (or remember, for the returners) just what they’re in for here at Rockbrook—that this is the sort of place where, if you were suddenly to get the urge to put on a crazy costume for no reason, no one would look twice, and more than likely, others would hurry to join you in dressing up; where, while we place a premium on treating others with respect, no one expects you to tiptoe through those tricky rules of courtesy set up in school; where no one cares about the labels on your clothes, the school crest on your backpack, or the grades on your last report card—they only want to know if you want to join in the tetherball tournament.

By dinner time, the Dining Hall is twice the volume it was at breakfast. Girls excitedly fill in their cabin mates and counselors on what they did that day, returning campers teach the camp songs to the new ones, and the Hi-Ups lead the rest of the camp in song after song, creating a happy din that spreads out from the Dining Hall, all across the still camp.

Ready, Aim... Fire

As energized and as vibrant as the Dining Hall has become in just twenty-four hours though, there is a long way to go yet before we reach the levels of Banquet Day. Over the next two or four weeks, these girls will face experiences that challenge them, that push them past their comfort zones, that make them laugh, make them cry, make them dance, make them sing, make them create, and make them wish that they could stay longer and experience even more.

That’s what makes this first day so exciting: today is the day they get the first sense of what awaits them in the days ahead. But all of that is still to come—today was just the start.

Making a Splash in the lake

A Team Effort

Miss RBC Contestants


This Sunday, the girls of Rockbrook gathered in a peaceful little corner of camp for chapel, a non-religious service that gives our campers and counselors quiet time to reflect on the week, and discuss some of the most important values that we promote here at camp. This week the theme of chapel was “Creativity,” so girls of the Junior and Middler lines stood before their peers to express the importance of creativity in camp life.

Camp girls outdoor ceremony

There was talk of our crafts classes, of course—of the toothbrush-holders made in pottery, the baskets woven in Curosty, the bracelets beaded in jewelry making. There was mention of the play, of the dedication that it takes to create something special for everyone to enjoy. And several girls brought up the nightly creative endeavor, Evening Program, in which every cabin works together to put on a skit.

It was this last sort of creativity, in which the girls work together to create something new, that came to the forefront later that day in the Miss RBC pageant, after the crisp white uniforms of the morning had been replaced with the colorful—if slightly dirty—play clothes of the afternoon.

Far removed from the beauty pageants you might see on TV, the Miss RBC pageant calls for one member of each cabin to dress up in the craziest, most over-the-top costume they can come up with and answer a silly question, such as “What’s your favorite jelly bean flavor, and why?” While it’s always fun to see the costumes that the pageant contestants and their cabin-mates put together (my particular favorite was the senior with toilet paper wrapped over her clothes, and her ponytail threaded through a plastic cup), the real highlight of the show is the talent portion.

Group dance move

All week, each cabin worked together to plan a skit, dance, song, or puppet show to impress the judges. The ideas that they came up with were truly impressive. From juniors adapting a Rockbrook song into a moving (and hilarious) saga about a mermaid and a shark, to Middlers singing their own arrangement of songs a capella, to seniors choreographing elaborate dance routines, the show had it all, and proved to be immensely entertaining for everyone involved.

More exciting still were the looks of pride and accomplishment worn by the campers of each and every cabin as they trooped off stage after performing for the camp. Especially those campers who had been nervous to step onstage beforehand looked thrilled to have accomplished the feat, and to have done it all with their friends and cabin-mates standing right beside them.

RBC contest winning

My Dewcoat Is Up In My Cabin

All Smiles on a Rainy Day

Our first full day with the mini-session campers turned out to be a wet one–the rain showers that rolled in Sunday night lingered over our wooded mountain for most of yesterday morning.

In true Rockbrook fashion, though, we weren’t held back by the rain, or “dew” as we like to call it here at camp. Since Rockbrook girls like to greet every scenario with a song, we started off the morning with a rousing rendition of “My Dewcoat Is Up In My Cabin,” at breakfast, in which the campers sing for someone to please “Bring DOWN, bring DOWN, oh bring down my dewcoat to me, to me!” Activities started up as usual soon after, just with a few improvisations thrown in to make this rainy day as fun as any other.

Balloon Volleyball

Tennis classes switched out rackets for paddles, and put together makeshift pingpong tables in the dining hall. Pairs of girls faced off over napkin-holder-nets in an epic pingpong tournament that had the whole dining hall cheering.

Not to be outdone, Archery, Swimming, and Riflery joined up with Sports and Games in the gym, for a pick-up game of balloon-volleyball. To make things more interesting, the counselors in charge hung a tarp over the net, so the campers couldn’t see until the last moment where the balloons would emerge. Just when the girls were getting the hang of things, the counselors threw in another curveball by adding even more balloons, resulting in an action-packed hour of shouting girls, flying balloons, and big smiles.

Our craft activities continued as scheduled, sometimes with additional campers joining in from their outdoor activities. Girls who had thought they’d be spending their mornings hiking to a nearby waterfall, instead tried their hands at improv games in Drama, weaving in Curosty, and pillow-making in Hodge Podge. I even heard one girl, after trying out Drama for the first time due to the rain, promise the Drama teacher that she would be sure to sign up for Drama for the next activity rotation.

Basket-Weaving in the Creek

After a morning of crafts, group games, and ice breakers indoors, campers and counselors emerged from their cabins after rest hour to a pristine–if slightly damp–camp, sparkling in the sunlight. The rest of the day went perfectly as scheduled: kayaks ventured out onto the lake once more, arrows thudded into bullseyes at the archery range, Curosty classes took their basket-weaving out to the creekside to enjoy the scenery–all while campers of all ages zoomed overhead on the zip-line.

It is true that these exciting adventures (big and small), which campers encounter every day at camp, are what make Rockbrook an exciting place to be; but still, it is the way that our campers spent their rainy morning that makes Rockbrook special.

Elsewhere, you might pass a stormy morning sitting around the house, staring glumly out the window, waiting for the sun to release you from boredom. Here at camp, we treat that pesky rain to a song, then spend its duration trying new things, meeting new friends, and creating silly games that might never even have been thought of if the rain hadn’t offered us the time.

We can handle the rain— it’s boredom that has no place here at Rockbrook.