Jeff Carter is the Director of Rockbrook Camp for Girls in Brevard, North Carolina. He attended Davidson College, earned a master's from Harvard University, and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in the History of Religions. He has taught at Vanderbilt University, Davidson College, and the University of South Carolina. He received a Fulbright Fellowship to study in Nigeria, is an All-American college athlete, and a published author. Beginning in 1988, he worked for eight years as a camp hiking and rock climbing guide before becoming, with his wife Sarah, the owners and directors of Rockbrook.
As the season begins to turn toward fall, this part of North Carolina offers something truly spectacular. The mountains that are home to Rockbrook transform. Shades of reds and yellow, and pops of orange and brown replace the blanket of greens that we know during the summer. Off in the distance and all around camp, the colors and textures of the forest become even more beautiful.
You should come see it!
This fall Rockbrook will be hosting an open house, giving everyone an opportunity to come for a visit, and enjoy a bit of camp in the fall.
We think this will be great occasion for families to learn more about Rockbrook, meet the directors and senior staff members, explore the beautiful grounds, and enjoy a few surprise fall activities. This open house will also be a chance for current campers and alumnae to see Rockbrook in a different season, and perhaps introduce their family and friends to the “heart of a wooded mountain.”
Consider yourself invited to our summer camp open house!
Open House Date
October 9, 2021
Drop in anytime between 10am and 4pm.
(scroll down to register)
What is the Fall Open House Day?
The Fall Open House Day at Rockbrook is an opportunity for existing campers, alumnae, families and friends, as well as prospective campers and their families, to spend a little time at camp during this beautiful season of the year.
What will we do at this open house day?
Our camp directors and other staff members will be on hand to greet everyone, lead guided tours of Rockbrook, and answer all your questions about camp life. There will be fall foliage hikes, a few fall activities, and warm homemade fall snacks.
Do I need to register to attend the Fall Open House Day?
There is no fee for anyone to attend, but we do ask that everyone RSVP.
Can I attend the Open House day if I am a current camper or alum?
Yes! We’d love to see you! In fact, we hope you will attend and we encourage you to bring a friend or family member who may be interested in coming to camp with you next summer! This is the perfect opportunity for you to show your BFF around camp and to let her in on all of the fun we have at Rockbrook!
What about social distancing and mask wearing due to CoVid-19?
North Carolina still requires face masks be worn when six feet of distancing between people is not possible. We plan to spend all of our time outside and maintain proper social distancing during these events. Our staff will be wearing masks when near guests and we ask that all our guests wear them as well. Also, please do not attend the open house if you or anyone in your party is experiencing any CoVid-19 related symptoms, or you have been in contact with anyone who has tested positive for CoVid-19 in the past 14 days.
Can we spend the night at camp?
Unfortunately, we will not be able to offer any overnight accommodation for this open house event, but we encourage you to consider staying in the area. Here is a list of nearby places to stay.
Why should I attend the open house day?
We all need a fall weekend in the mountains, and we think you’ll really enjoy visiting Rockbrook! Come say hello and sample that Rockbrook spirit.
At the end of August this year, Rockbrook continued to celebrate its 100th year by holding a weekend alumnae reunion. Women from all over the country who had attended camp as children, and some who had worked as staff members, made plans to return to Rockbrook, reuniting with camp friends and reviving their camp spirit.
The reunion was a smashing success! Altogether 340 alumnae attended, bringing together women who were campers in the 1950s up to the 2000s. Most stayed overnight in Rockbrook’s historic cabins. Several mother-daughter pairs, both of whom attended camp, enjoyed their time together. Perfect late-summer, mountain weather added to everyone’s joy of spending time back at camp.
The weekend was full of laughter, conversation and reminiscing, but also filled with fun. The alumnae went on hikes around the camp property, swam in the lake, shot archery and riflery, climbed the alpine tower, flew through the trees on the zipline course, made pottery, tie-dye t-shirts, and friendship bracelets for each other. They enjoyed delicious meals, including fresh-baked muffins (of course!), a costumed dance party in the gym and a Spirit Fire.
Other highlights included tributes to former directors Teed Poe and Jerry Stone, and long-serving caretakers, Gladys and J.D. Owen. There was an afternoon wine reception at the Clarke-Carrier Rockbrook house where alumnae could view historic artifacts, photographs, and documents from the camp’s 100-year history.
Here we’ve got a short video of highlights from the reunion. Filmed on Saturday, it’s a wonderful tribute to the power of Rockbrook to make a difference in the lives of so many women.
Also during the reunion, Sarah Carter unveiled, In the Heart of a Wooded Mountain: Rockbrook Camp for Girls 1921-2021, the hardcover book recounting the history of Rockbrook. All of the alumnae attending received a copy of the book and were thrilled to page through its detailed accounts and rare photographs. Copies are still available for sale in the Rockbrook online shop.
As memories of camp bubbled back to the surface— inspired by sleeping in the same cabins, walking along the same trails, taking a dip in the same lake —the women attending the reunion relaxed outside and enjoyed each other’s company. They were so grateful to feel again the comfort of this special place, and the true friendship that it fosters. Following the struggles and isolation inflamed by the pandemic, the whole weekend was a rejuvenating testament to the power of camp and how much it means to everyone. Like for our campers this summer, being together at Rockbrook felt just right, proving once again that, now for 100 years, camp is indelibly fulfilling.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.”
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?
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.
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.
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.
When Nancy Carrier founded Rockbrook 100 years ago, I wonder if she realized just how extraordinary the setting of the camp is. Her father had chosen the property for their family estate 25 years earlier after being attracted to its large rock faces, hills, running creeks, proximity to the French Broad river, and rich valley farmland. It included several hundred acres of forest surrounding the main house to the north, south and east up to the ridge line. When Nancy decided to build Rockbrook, she hired a local engineer and worked to arrange the camp buildings to fit the natural contours of the land. She used locally quarried rock and timber cut from the camp property to build the many buildings, adding to the feeling that Rockbrook was a natural part of these hills, almost as if it had sprung up organically and had always been there. She preserved and incorporated the natural beauty of the land, making it an integral experience for everyone who spends time at camp. Today, we all benefit from being close to its strong trees, its cool running waters, ancient boulders, and views of the distant mountains.
Today I explored a remote section of the camp property with two different groups of Seniors. We went on a hunt for the elusive “Kilroy’s cabin.” This is an old, simple wooden structure, now dilapidated, where legend says a hermit character named Kilroy once lived. There’s a tragic story linked to Kilroy that involves love and loss, and a beautiful woman with red hair and light colored eyes. The cabin is said to be hidden and difficult to find unless the group searching for it includes a red-headed girl. There’s no trail that leads directly to the cabin, so groups hiking to it must bushwhack through the woods with hopes of finding it.
Hiking to the cabin is challenging. It’s mostly uphill with some parts being very steep. It requires ducking and weaving through thick bushes, sometimes literally crawling on hands and knees. There are muddy sections and briar patches to avoid, slippery slopes and small creeks to cross. All of this makes for slow going. It inevitably means getting dirty, sweating enough to soak through your t-shirt, and pulling twigs from your hair along the way. But it also means getting very close to the forest, crouching down low enough to notice more, touching the nearby trees, and encountering mushrooms, snails, spiders and other insects. Today we came upon two species of snakes, found several feathers, and stood at the base of a waterfall. The hike lasted two and half hours.
In many ways, this experience is fairly typical at camp. I had a group of girls cheerfully engaged with the natural world around them, chatting, singing and laughing together as they exercised all their senses. These were teenage girls paying attention to each other, sharing stories as we “hiked,” embracing this challenging experience without a shred of complaining or whining. They were cooperating and communicating with the greatest of ease. They were bright and happy under these difficult conditions, whether accidentally brushing into thorns or sliding down a steep bank of leaves. Over and over again, I heard how the girls were having a great time. “I love this kind of stuff! Let’s do it again sometime soon,” one girl exclaimed to me.
Does this sound like the teenage girls you know? Do you regularly see this kind of enthusiasm, social confidence, curiosity and positive attitudes? Are the teenagers you know game to do things, real world things like this? I would bet not. I have a hunch that these girls are different when they’re at camp, happier yes, but also more outgoing. I also believe that for the most part they are less stressed and anxious at camp. There are things about camp life— things it uniquely offers, but also things it profoundly lacks —that have this real effect on teenagers, on their immediate health and happiness, and longterm personal success.
If you’ve been following my posts recently, you can probably guess one side of this. I’ve been claiming that camp is uniquely situated to add certain experiences to a teenager’s life, for example, to feel the support of a caring, noncompetitive community, or the joy of regular free time to create, imagine, and play. Camp provides that rare feeling of belonging and acceptance. It tunes your awareness of others. It’s built upon experientially rich, real-world interactions and meaningful relationships. It brings out the best in these girls as it brings them together. This is what camp adds.
The other side of this— what is crucially missing from camp life —came to mind after reading this opinion piece by psychologists Jonathan Haidt and Jean M. Twenge. I’ve written about their research in the past, making different points about self confidence and handling adversity, but this new article points at the same culprit: the smartphone. Once again we learn how “smartphones in general and social media in particular” are correlated with sharp increases in teenage loneliness, depression and anxiety. Their new research shows that this is a worldwide phenomenon affecting children everywhere. They ask, “Do individual teens who consume a lot of social media have worse health outcomes than individual teens who consume little?” And they answer directly; “the answer is yes, particularly for girls.”
There are no smartphones and no social media at camp. Instead your girls are making real connections. They’re looking around, engaging with the world around them, not looking down, scrolling mindlessly through some idealized version of reality. At camp they’re actively, not passively entertained. They’re making true friends, not superficial Instagram “followers,” or vain Snapchat “streaks.”
The girls here at Rockbrook know this too. They know camp life is contrary to what they experience on their phones. Oddly, they love camp, and actually love not dealing with their phones while here, but every one of them will likely return to their social media habits when they get back home (or even the instant they get in the car on closing day! …Here’s an idea. Leave her phone at home! You’ll be able to enjoy her camp personality a bit, and hear some stories before she take steps back into that virtual world again.). The allure of this technology is too powerful. It’s tied to too many aspects of modern life. Haidt and Twenge advocate for creating the conditions where kids learn to socialize in the real world, for example by banning phones in schools and delaying when young children begin using social media.
Well, your girls already have those very conditions; they have them at camp. On a daily basis they are counteracting the negative effects of social media. In the long run, I hope your girls can draw upon their camp experience to recognize when their smartphone use is diminishing their real world engagement. If so, I think that self awareness will benefit their relationships and longterm happiness.
Amazing videographer Robbie Francis returned to camp this week to film. Robbie’s been helping us for years capture on camera bits of camp life. He spends the day blending into the hustle and recording little snippets of kids being kids at camp.
He’s again edited a short video that beautifully captures the feel of our days at Rockbrook. It’s less than two minutes long, and is completely fascinating. Sometimes it’s hard to understand what really happens at camp, how your girls are feeling while they’re here. This video is a glimpse of that for you.