Forgiving Each Other Daily

friendships and community at summer camp

If you ask most people why they come to camp, the friendships and community will probably be high on the list. Rockbrook’s entire focus is on relationships; it’s the foundation of everything else. Even teen camp girls talk about how their friendships at camp are different than other friends: they get closer more quickly. There are many reasons for this: the ability to be oneself without the same judgment that they experience at home, the prevalence of real conversations that are uninhibited by technology, the idyllic setting and the slower pace of life at camp are all apart of it. Yet there is also a part of it that we do not talk about as often, but I think it may be one of the most important lessons we learn at camp: the ability to have differences and disagreements, and to learn how to compromise and forgive one another.

Living together is mostly fun: we experience the connection that comes with being part of something bigger than ourselves, to get to know others from different backgrounds, to experience laughing so hard our stomachs hurt when someone reflects on their “high, low, funny.” Yet living together can also be uniquely challenging, and I don’t think we really would want it any other way. We are asked to consider the group’s needs before our own, to refill the basket of bread if we were the last ones to get a piece, to go along with a skit idea even if it wasn’t our first choice, to do chores for the good of the cabin. We learn how to work together in order to achieve a common goal.

According to Tuckman’s stages of group development, these sacrifices are less challenging in the beginning of a group’s time together, what he terms the “forming” stage. This is where everyone is still getting to know the others, and everyone is careful of everything. Making the small sacrifices is easy for the first few days; then, it gets more challenging, what Tuckman calls the “storming” phase. This is when we know each other well enough to express our individual needs, to talk about what we could do better. Frequently, people shy away from the storming phase, but it’s actually a great sign in group development. Storming means that we trust each other with our personal needs, can loosen up and feel more at home, and in having more challenging conversations, we are able to move into deeper levels of friendship. Then, we get into norming, which is the stage when we move past the storms and learn to live with each other in this closer, deeper space.

summer camp girls ready for a skit

Of course, during storming, conflict can arise. We will all face conflict so many times in our lives, but what makes camp special is the way it prepares campers to resolve conflict in a safe environment with lots of support. A common time for conflict to arise during storming is while planning skits, or while planning an event like today’s Miss RBC. Miss RBC is an event that is a spoof on a beauty pageant, where all cabins perform a “talent” (usually a song or a skit) for the rest of the camp. Then, at the end, the representative from the cabin who won is crowned “Miss RBC.” The event is so joyful to watch, with cabinmates proud of each other for their finished product. Yet until then, it is challenging to come up with a concept, get the entire cabin to agree on it, and practice until it is where you want it to be. Everyone wants their idea to be heard and understood, and wants to have just the perfect role. When this doesn’t happen, sometimes conflict arises. We continue to ask campers to plan skits and Miss RBC, though, partly because it presents them with a challenge. In tackling that challenge and reaching a final product, campers learn a multitude of intangible lessons about the challenges and possibilities that come from working together.

At home, when we are faced with a conflict, we may go hide in our rooms or get away from the situation. At camp, we have to address it, and though this is challenging, it also teaches us that conflict is okay and empowers us to learn how to resolve it and compromise. Here is a place where, if conflict becomes overwhelming, girls will go find their counselor, and their counselor will model a calm and fair way of resolving it. It’s a place where we learn how to deal with some of these conflicts ourselves. And it’s a place where we learn how to be forgiving.

I once had a professor who told our class, “I truly believe that we are forgiving each other daily,” and I think this applies so aptly to camp life. We all have to make compromises every day when we are all living together, like waiting for the girl who is running late to archery or letting a cabinmate have the lead role in the skit. Yet we are in a place that reminds us that, even when it’s hard, we should always look for the best in others. So we learn to forgive, to be friends even after we have been frustrated with someone, to put into perspective what is a big deal, and what we do not need to spend our energy on. We learn that we are worthy of being loved even when we make a mistake or hurt someone else’s feelings. It is through conflict and forgiving each other that our friendships deepen and grow in our ability to solve problems, and keep patience and perspective.

skit performance of girls cooperating

Every night before bed, girls say the Rockbrook Prayer, reciting in part, “Forgive us if we are unkind and help us to forgive those who are unkind to us.” In this quietly profound hope that we say together, we end our day with a fresh slate, a new beginning for the next day. We take responsibility for the humanness in us and accept the humanness in others. This is such an important part of growing up and being a good person, and living together in community enables us to practice conflict resolution and compromise a lot, to figure out how to graciously respond when we are frustrated with each other, or when we don’t get exactly what we want. That’s what it means to be part of something larger than ourselves, and we are so lucky to have a place like Rockbrook that allows us to care so much about our community that we are willing to forgive and compromise with them.

Lost and Found

Camp tetherball buddies

On the bulletin board where announcements are posted, you’ll see the lost and found list. As the name suggests, campers update the list about belongings they have lost or found while at camp. Sometimes the list gets pretty specific (“If anyone sees a sock that is blue with cooked pink shrimp on it, please return it to Middler 6!”), and we read the list aloud frequently to make sure that girls return with everything they came here with. When the list was read today, though, there wasn’t anything on the lost list. In fact, there were only items on the found list. I thought this was beautifully poetic—it represented the ways in which the community was looking out for each other, even before anyone realized they had lost something.

In many ways, this idea seeps into our everyday lives at camp. In coming to camp, we lose things, or more accurately, are without things. We have the basics in our trunk: a flashlight, a book, some clothes, and some friendship bracelet string, but we are without some of the more present items of our existence: our phones, our computers, the familiar environments we are used to. Yet camp girls come back every year, and daydream about it all throughout the year. I think that is because they have found so much more at camp than they have lost. They find strength in them that they never knew was there before, they find that they have a lot in common with people from different backgrounds, they find the capacity in them to be giving and authentic—the found list is much longer than the lost list.

zip line kid

Throughout camp, the exchange between lost and found is seen every day. Today, it was announced that there was going to be a trip on the camp zip-line course. The zip-line goes throughout the back side of camp, taking girls across waterfalls and through the trees. This trip is generally offered multiple times every day, and is always wildly popular. As this was the first activity day for many girls, today was a particularly popular day to sign up for the trip. Because the trip was so popular, it was impossible to get everyone who wanted to go today on the trip (they’ll definitely have more opportunities to go, though!). A trio of juniors who arrived yesterday were all in line for the trip. When two of them drew cards that meant that they could go, but one of them could not go, the two who were chosen to go on the trip gave up their spaces, saying that they would go another time when their friend could go. This beautifully exemplified this lost and found principle. Even though they lost going on the trip today, they found a way for them all to go together another time. More than that, though, they found a deeper sense of friendship and the joy that comes from being a loyal friend and the maturity that comes with compromising one’s own bliss for the good of others. They gained much more than they lost.

county costume kids

At camp, we see this in other ways too. Sometimes, what we lose is not as tangible as a sock or even a zip-line experience. A lot of the time, it’s our inhibitions and the things that prevent us from having fun and being our true selves. The other day, we were having an evening program called “Jug Band.” Jug Band is an old-fashioned campfire that incorporates Appalachian culture and silliness. Everyone brings an “instrument” (like rocks or brooms) and sings songs such as “Mountain Dew” and “Wagon Wheel.” Jug Band is incredibly fun, but is also incredibly silly. On the night of Jug Band, a middler cabin lacked their usual enthusiasm for the event. They were hesitant about going, and did not want to dress up. Their counselors, however, started playing on instruments (trunks and tennis rackets) and making up songs. Before long, the entire cabin was joining in the fun, creating their own band! By the time they showed up to Jug Band, they were some of the most enthusiastic and spirited campers at the fire.

In their cabin, the band kept practicing and writing new songs. The band’s name was “Saurkraut,” (the spelling is intentional) and tonight during twilight, Saurkraut had their first performance. They created tickets that they handed out to everyone (some of the tickets were even autographed: ‘Saurkraut! Rock out!’) and one of their hit songs was “Do You Jam, Bro?” The band was a hit, and the reviews were raving, “That’s the best thing that’s ever happened at twilight!” When inhibitions were lost, Saurkraut was found. Creativity, a greater sense of community, identity, and the ability to let our hair down—these are the things we find here at camp.

The other thing about lost and found at camp is that we learn to live without the things we have lost. We realize we can live without that sock, that we can thrive without our phones. But when things are found, we gain a new appreciation for them. We want to keep what we’ve found safe, we know it in an entirely different way. I think that’s how the intangibles at camp work, too. We find this authentic version of ourselves, someone who knows how to compromise and get along with others, who seeks the best in others, who isn’t afraid to get her hair wet. When we go home, we have a new appreciation for this version of ourselves, and we live differently, as we continue to stay found.

girls camp group

Play the Game

cmap gaga ball game

At Rockbrook, we play all the time. Walk around camp at almost any time of day, and you’ll see the intensity of a gaga game, a line of girls waiting to play tetherball, and hear the familiar bounce of tennis balls being hit during free swims. Even though all of these are competitive games, Rockbrook considers itself to be a noncompetitive camp. By that, we mean that we emphasize playing over winning. Though of course winning has a certain thrill, there is beauty in living in a culture that reminds us that the point of playing isn’t always to get ahead. Sometimes, it’s about finding the joy in what you’re doing, to focus more on the process of the game, rather than just the outcome. In this, competitions continue to be a way of building each other up, whether we are the next Serena Williams, or a complete novice. We learn to support each other, to win and to lose gracefully, and most importantly, to have less inhibition about just playing the game.

Our Rockbrook camp girls really embodied this ethic today, as we went to Camp Carolina for riflery, archery, and tennis tournaments. When we got there, it turned out another camp, Keystone, was also there, so it became a tri-camp tournament! Throughout the competitions, I was really impressed by how the Rockbrook girls embodied the tenants that come from Rockbrook’s focus on sportsmanship and support, even in a more competitive environment. This morning at breakfast, Rockbrook sent its support to the tournament girls by singing the tennis song, “I’d rather play a tennis match than any other girl I know…” and the archery song, “archery, that’s for me, it’s my favorite activity…”

tennis camp girl

The girls left camp in matching shirts that the counselors had made for them, bringing Rockbrook spirit to Camp Carolina. This spirit pervaded everything they did. For example, I watched a match played by senior girls against Camp Carolina boys. One of the girls clearly had a ton of tennis experience whereas the other one was newer to the sport. I heard her laugh as her partner helped direct her around the court as she was serving, “Oh,” she said with a smile, “It’s not that different from volleyball!” The two constantly communicated back and forth, and she was able to hit most of her serves in. When they missed a ball, they kindly said, “that’s okay!” to each other, and when they succeeded, they clapped their racquets together in a high-five. Though the match was close, the duo ended up winning. Ultimately, though, the match felt uniquely ‘Rockbrook’ to me—the girls had so much fun throughout, and the majority of the focus was on building each other up, rather than being the tennis champion of the day.

Later that day, I saw a boy struggling to get his serves in the box. That same girl who did not have much tennis experience reassured him from across the court: “Don’t worry about it!” she said calmly. “I hit them out all the time, too!” Not only was she a supportive teammate to her partner, she was also kind and reassuring to her competition. In some ways, I think this epitomizes Rockbrook’s spirit. It’s not that we don’t care about winning, but we want everyone to feel that taking risks and making mistakes is okay; there should be joy in the process. In archery and riflery, Rockbrook girls loudly cheered on their teammates, no matter how many times they hit the target. At Rockbrook, being on a team means supporting each other no matter what.

Girls victory game
Vive la France!

This same spirit continued later in twilight when girls went to land sports to play World Cup Soccer. As a camp, we have streamed the quarter finals and finals of The World Cup, and we certainly have some avid soccer fans at RBC. Girls got into teams of three, and adopted a country that was in the World Cup! All of the teams try to score a goal, and when you kick, you say your country’s name! If you’re the last country to score, your team is out. At Rockbrook, though, when teams get out, they go to the side and wholeheartedly cheer on their friends! In a funny coincidence, France won the World Cup at RBC this year, too! What a lucky country!

Today was a fun day of playing and competing. Soon, we’ll go home to our own athletic teams, schools, and other activities that ask us to compete against each other a lot. As we come from Rockbrook’s noncompetitive environment, I hope that we can all remember the lessons we’ve learned here. While winning is great, it is also important to remember to try things even when we aren’t the best, it’s still important to build each other up, even when they’re competing against us, and at least some of the joy should come from simply playing the game.

camp girls cooperating

Growing Together

“Most of us can remember how long the summers used to seem and how long it was from birthday to birthday. When we were five, it seemed we’d never get to be ten, and at ten it seemed it would be forever until we were twenty. So often is it only by looking back at where we have been that we can see we are growing at all.” —Fred Rogers

multi-age camp girls

Camp is often thought of as an antidote to many of the things we miss in today’s society: it provides a slower pace, a place to have real conversations, a time to disconnect from technology and reconnect with people. Even reconnecting with people is unique. With more socializing done online and inside and less within the community, many of us only have strong relationships with people who are within the same age, or are family. At camp, however, we are constantly interacting with people, and building community with, people who are older and younger than us. These inter-age conversations give us so many advantages: we are able to see new perspectives and hear new stories, see how far we’ve grown or where we are growing to, and form a dynamic community where all ages can appreciate what the others are offering.

These relationships are woven into the fabric of camp. At dance today, for example, there were three juniors and two counselors dancing. The counselors were patient and kind as the campers picked up the moves, each representing their own unique personalities in their renditions. Then, when they took a break, I thought about how naturally the girls and counselors were talking. It was simple: they were talking about movies (the song “Thriller” was playing, which some of the girls recognized from Thirteen Going On Thirty), speculating about the upcoming banquet (a topic that is endlessly interesting), and about the upcoming dance show. Even though the conversations were simple, they were quietly profound; each girl was known, and was able to share her unique experiences with the group. There aren’t many other times that twenty-year-olds and eight-year-olds sit in the same room and talk about their lives and experiences.

camp craft project girls together

This happens all the time, all throughout camp. It’s there when girls are sitting on the dock talking to swimming instructors after swimming in the lake. It’s there when seniors led the Luau on Sunday, welcoming new campers and inspiring their excitement about the activities. Maybe it’s best represented by the Hi-Ups, who have the most structured interactions with younger campers. Yesterday, I helped lead the junior overnight at the Rockbrook outpost, a ten-minute walk from camp. A few Hi-Ups (the oldest campers) were helping me build a fire. One of the Hi-Ups said she had not been out there since she was a junior. When the juniors came to meet us out there, she knew all of their names, and knew what to do to make the overnight incredible. Knowing her was clearly meaningful for the juniors; they all asked her to sit beside her, and the way she knew them made each of them feel special and valued. By getting to interact with people older than them, juniors are able to see role models of who they want to be as they are growing. Yet it was also meaningful for the Hi-Up. At the overnight, she was able to see how much she had grown in her years at camp, to help provide an experience for others that had meant so much to her as a junior, and to enjoy the new perspectives and sense of joy that come from talking to an outgoing and spirited cabin of juniors.

inter-age camp girls together

Counselors have told me they love talking to campers partly because of the way campers ask them to see the world. One counselor laughed as she was telling me about her cabin of juniors who told her they were missing Bobby. She did not want to seem so out of the loop that she did not know who (or what) Bobby was, so she asked a lot of questions about what he looked like. What does Bobby wear? A top hat and a rainbow striped outfit. Could he have wandered off? No, he has no legs and arms, but he could have rolled. What color is Bobby? Rainbow (we just told you that!). It turned out Bobby was a cork the group had decorated. The counselor dove head-first into their mission, and the cabin even made an announcement at a meal about how he had gone missing. In the end, it turned out that he was found in a Crazy Creek, not far from where he was last seen. As I type this, rest assured that Bobby is safe in his box, a nice place, similar to where you may find a charm bracelet, with a nice foam mattress and a construction paper blanket. On the lid, you’ll see “Home Sweet Home,” written in Sharpie. As we grow up, and are inundated by pressures and distractions, it’s rare that we get the opportunity to work together to find a cork in a big camp, and we remember how much pure fun the simple parts of life can be.

In addition to these inter-age conversations that happen between campers and each other, and their young counselors, this extends to an even greater range of people. A great example is Kathy Singer, who was a Rockbrook Camper from 1956-1957, and then came back as a counselor in the 60s. Now, she teaches the Folklore Activity, and she is beloved at camp for her stories about camp and also her stories about life. Recently, campers and counselors started the “Kathy Singer Fan Club,” complete with stickers, a testament to how much she has meant to the camp community this summer.

By continuing to have these inter-age conversations, we are keeping the traditions of camp alive; we are all a part of this larger community, and we take care of each other, knowing that this spirit will continue into the future. We also learn more about other people, the change in times, and how much we have grown. In a world where we are sometimes disconnected from other ages and perspectives, how lucky we are to come to camp and grow together.

swimming with kickboards together in the lake

Join the Club

Rockbrook is, almost by definition, an inclusive place. When campers arrive, for example, counselors personally greet every camper, welcoming them to the community. It’s non-competitive, so each person’s contributions are equally celebrated. Within this inclusive environment, then, the clubs that have emerged this session have a unique Rockbrook spin on them.

camp free time at creek

To start with, every session, there are a couple of clubs that encourage campers to meet goals. Rockbrook Runners is one of these clubs. They meet every day at Hiker’s Rock at first free swim and go for a run around camp along Charlotte’s Loop, which is about two miles long. Full session campers are trying to log 26 miles, and mini session campers are trying to log 13 in order to enter the Marathon Club. Those in the Marathon club go to Dolly’s at the end of the session. Not everyone runs, of course—there are groups of people running, jogging (known as “yogging”) and walking, so everyone can find a group going at their pace. Rockbrook Runners is a great chance for girls from different lines to get to know each other, and also to behold the beauty of camp in parts they may not usually see.

camp free swim time

If land isn’t your forte, you can also choose to splash into the water. If you’re down by the lake during any activity period or any free swim, you will see girls swimming laps in an effort to enter the Mermaid Club. There are different amounts of laps that each age group is supposed to swim, and then they are members of the Mermaid Club. When they complete the laps, their name is announced in front of the dining hall, and the entire camp sings the Mermaid Song:

Way down at Rockbrook in the chilly lake,
There were some girls a swimmin’ who started to shiver and shake
We saw some scales a glinting and tails they did sprout
Lo and behold a mermaid, the whole camp to shout:
Oh mermaid, mermaid, what’s your name?
[Name! Name!] You’re a Mermaid!

Some girls prefer the more leisurely Rockbrook Readers, who meet on the hillside lodge porch during second free swim with books and sometimes much-needed peace and quiet. The hillside lodge overlooks the mountains, so this informal club enjoys a beautiful view and rocking chairs that create an idyllic setting for reading.

camp friends girls

Campers can depend on these clubs every session of every year. They’re part of the fabric of free swims. Rockbrook is camper-driven, though. Especially in the last few days, as girls are feeling more comfortable and confident, clubs created by campers have been popping up every day. Yesterday, a group of girls created the Fruit Club. This club’s mission is “to learn fun facts about fruit, and to dissect fruit” in order to learn more about it. In a similar vein, the Milk Club was also created. Fellow campers signed up for the Milk Club under their favorite type of milk—2%, Skim, or Lactaid, to be sure to be inclusive of girls who are lactose intolerant. The Glitter Club was also introduced, which is primarily a club of glitter appreciation. Everyone who enjoys glitter is welcome, and they are planning to do things like make friendship bracelets with the word “glitter” on them in order to celebrate their appreciation of glitter.

horse kids camp

The Best Day of the Year

Excitement rippled up and down the Rockbrook hill all morning. We had seen this lunch being prepared for days, and now it was finally here. This would not be just any lunch; it would be a lunch so good that, upon entering the dining hall, people looked at the table and said, “This is the best day of the year!” It was tamale day.

Tamales coming from the steamer

These were authentic homemade tamales, expertly prepared by Rick and our friends in the kitchen. Finely ground corn flour, oil, lime and stock combines to make a paste called “masa,” which is then spread into a softened corn husk, filled with chicken, peppers, vegetables and/or cheese, and then rolled/folded to make each tamale. Cooking and shredding the chicken, soaking the corn husks in water, preparing the Guajillo pepper sauce, and mixing the masa all take time, not to mention the effort required to assemble the tamales, one by one. The last step is to steam the tamales in large pots (one holding 20 gallons!). Can you see why this took three days, especially when a little more than 1000 tamales needed to be made?

We sat down to eat, and the room was filled with joyous gratitude. The freshly steamed tamales, homemade guacamole, salsa, sour cream and salad made a delicious meal. This day is legendary around camp, and only happens once throughout the entire summer. It felt special today that it was happening second session this year, and there was a pure kind of contentment about being together with this wonderful food.

BUT THEN our day got even better! The dining hall doors opened and in came a mariachi band! When they began to play, dressed in their amazing costumes, the entire dining hall erupted with elation and excitement. Everyone was full of pure joy. One counselor was so excited, her campers remarked that it was “as though she had just gotten a new puppy.” They played classics like “Canta y no llores” and “La Cucaracha,” and other songs like “Despacito” and “La Bamba.” The dining hall broke out in dancing, with girls jumping up and down, counselors spinning them around; a conga line even began. The performers had such joy and excitement in their eyes, which was reflected back to them by every girl. The amount of bliss in the dining hall today was truly unparalleled.  Here, take a look!

If you were to take a snapshot of the best of Rockbrook, you might choose this meal, this moment. It included so many of the best things about camp that we have come to love. It was delicious food made with love, it was a surprise that sparked pure happiness, it was spontaneous dancing and singing, and enjoying all of this together. Even as it was happening, everyone knew that this was going to be a time to remember, a time that makes us step back and remember that, at camp, a meal can be magical.

Rockbrook mariachi musicians

Stretching Ourselves

girl camp equestrian

Part of the reason most of us come to camp is because we want to grow. Another way of saying this, of course, is that we want to be challenged. As I walked around camp today, I realized how unique Rockbrook is in giving each camper the freedom to make choices about how to stretch herself. Girls choose their own activities, and within those activities, there is a lot to do, but girls are constantly encouraged and given the choice of how they want to stretch their capabilities.

As I walked around camp today, I saw a lot of stretching. This was literal in gymnastics, because when I arrived, everyone was stretching their bodies, loosening up for the games ahead. The campers were excited to play the game “Stick It,” in which someone tells them a move right before they jump on the trampoline, and they have to stick it afterward. In the class, there was a wide array of ability levels. Some girls had grown up as gymnasts whereas others had never done a cartwheel. Everyone, though, had fun, and were able to challenge themselves. Whether they wanted to finish with perfect form, or whether they learned what a pike was, everyone stretched themselves in ways they chose to. The counselor was around the whole time, encouraging every girl, whether she was the star tumbler or the novice.

basketball camp game
alpine tower girl climber

The same spirit was alive and well in sports and games. Campers were playing the game “Knockout,” which is a variation on basketball where girls are trying to shoot a basket in the hoop before the person behind them. If they don’t do this, they are out. What was impressive about this, though, was that the game was congenial the whole time. The spirit of Rockbrook is not competitive, so the mood was light as girls tried to shoot their baskets. When campers got out, they chilled out by the fan and the counselor (who had been playing, but got out) was carrying on conversation until a winner was declared. It’s this cooperative, noncompetitive spirit that enables campers to constantly support each other and feel safe stretching themselves beyond what they think their limits are.

This was especially true in climbing, where I met up with a group of juniors who were trying to ascend the Alpine Tower. I sat on the log next to a junior and asked her about her climbing experience in the past. She had never climbed at Rockbrook before, but had climbed a few rock walls at home. I asked her how she wanted to go up, and she pointed to the hanging logs, the hardest way up. “I’m going to try, even though I’ve never done it before,” she said. It was an impressive moment—for someone who had never gone on the Alpine Tower to go up the hardest way, she was excited to stretch beyond her comfort zone. As I looked around, though, I realized that Rockbrook was creating a great environment for her to be unafraid to try something hard. All around the tower, I heard cheers of “You’ve got this!” and “You can do this!” These were not prompted by the counselors (who were encouraging in their own ways), but something the campers did intuitively.

The atmosphere of camp is one that asks us to always lift each other up, and in doing knowing that others want the best for us and are not focusing on our failures, it makes it easier to challenge ourselves to do hard things. For some girls, even being at camp away from their parents is a challenge in its own way. Girls are leaving the familiarity and comforts of home, stretching their ability to be independent and make friends outside of their immediate surroundings. Today, now that girls are settled and we have a schedule, it was really fun to see girls who had a bit of homesickness yesterday start to really embrace camp, to think, “I can do this, and it’s going to be fun!” They are finding friends, and they are finding that they are being lifted up by counselors and friends who see the best in them and want to know all about them. As we continue to get settled in, we will continue finding new ways to challenge ourselves and grow in ways that only camp can provide.

Camp gymnastics girls

Don’t You Ever Worry About a Thing

Sometimes at camp, I ask my girls what their schedule is like at home. Their answers amaze me: their days are jam packed with school, sports, and other activities. My campers are in high school and, as high achievers, I am really impressed that they are able to balance everything and still have time for friends and fun. Still, there is a lot on their plate: between basketball, dance, really challenging classes, and other pressures, many say they get stressed.

They view Rockbrook as a break from that, and Rockbrook is uniquely suited to providing a less stressful environment. At camp, I think we take a step back and look at what really matters, and have patience with the rest. It’s a place where a camper doesn’t have to worry about being reprimanded if she is five minutes late to an activity. Instead, she is greeted with a smiling face and excitement. It’s a place where we wear costumes and do crazy dance moves without fear of being judged. It’s a place where ‘perfect’ doesn’t really matter, but being a good friend does. Without the stresses of our outside lives and with a really loving and supportive community, girls feel profoundly comfortable to try new things and get close with people.

Girls in black with red face hand print

Sundays at Rockbrook really exemplify this. We take things a little slower on Sundays. After the girls’ dance last night, everyone was exhausted, so the extra hour of sleep was greeted with joy. We then ate Krispie Kreme donuts for breakfast (a camp tradition!) before going to chapel. The juniors and middlers led chapel this morning, and we all reflected on the theme of “Playfulness.” We sang songs like ‘Zip a Dee Do Dah’ and girls shared their thoughts on playfulness and how they think about it at camp. It was a perfect way to spend the morning before a delicious muffin break and tidying up our cabins.

camp girls holding award

After that, we had Assembly on the Hill. This is a time for the entire camp to come together and honor cabins with the famous ‘Mop Award,’ or a prize for the cleanest cabin. We also honored girls who were outstanding in the categories of Spirit, Manners, and Bend-a-Back, which means going the extra mile for a friend. After, we watched as the counselors had an old-fashioned water balloon toss. The middlers won!

We have a good amount of down time on Sundays, and everyone appreciates the chance to have a break and hang out for a little bit of time. Bop It has been big in my cabin this session, along with Trivial Pursuit and playing drums. During a stretch of time today, my cabin of fifteen-year-old girls spent time playing together in the creek. Every cabin has something that brings their cabin together, and it is nice to have a little bit of ease in the schedule so we have time to hang out with no rush of going somewhere else.

This afternoon, we had an extra long rest hour (such an important part of the day!) and then it was time for Miss RBC. Miss RBC is basically a talent show where each cabin puts on a skit for the rest of camp. Girls get very creative—the CA’s played drums and interpretively danced/sang to Eye of the Tiger. Senior 4 rewrote the lyrics to ‘Hush Little Baby,’ singing, “You’re going to follow the cardinal bird.” Middler 4 ended up winning—they did a time traveling skit that went through the decades starting in the twenties. They sang songs and did dances from each decade—it was incredibly impressive! Everyone in the audience was wide-eyed and clapped wildly after the performance!

camp skit performance
award winning camper

For Miss RBC, we don’t use outside music or flashy lights. We just need the stage of the gym and a lot of imagination. I think there is something beautiful in the way we are completely captivated and entertained even without all of the distractions we usually would have at home. It is such a simple event to put on, but everyone enjoys performing and celebrating others’ talents.

After dinner, we had a barn party as the twilight activity! Girls could choose to walk down to the barn, play with the horses, eat a Popsicle, and watch the drill team perform! The drill team is comprised of girls who love riding, and they were able to synchronize their moves—it was quite a performance! Afterwards, the drill team members got Dolly’s, an extra special treat!

After a wonderful day of relaxation, it was time for movie night! Girls look forward to this every Sunday night. They bring down sleeping bags and pillows and curl up next to their good friends and watch great movies. Tonight, it was Zootopia! Every age group loves this movie, and many had not seen it before!

Tomorrow, we will return to a normal schedule, which is great because we get to continue doing so many activities! Still, today was a needed day of relaxation. Camp is winding down. Next Thursday, we will be back in our normal lives, back with all of the worries, joy, and support that come with that. What we have learned at camp, though, does not need to stay at camp. Rockbrook teaches us to slow down and reconsider what is important and what is not. We stop worrying about how we are perceived, and we realize that perfection is not the expectation. The biggest lesson I hope we take with us when we leave these mountains is simply: I Am Enough.

A Magical Day

“Stupefy!” “Expecto Patronum!” “Petrificus Totalus!”

And so began The Wizarding World of Rockbrook Camp, or the day when camp magically turned into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry! After lunch, campers returned to their cabins, and for Harry Potter fans, their dreams came true: their acceptance letter to Hogwarts (finally) arrived! They were witches and were invited to spend the afternoon taking classes along with the rest of their house. Each girl was sorted by cabin into one of the Hogwarts Houses: Hufflepuff, Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin.

We made our way to potions first, and we mixed phoenix tears with unicorn hair and put it in a vile to save for later. Theme music from the Harry Potter movies blasted in the background, setting the tone and putting us all more in the spirit.

Harry Potter Girl
Making a potter potion

After learning so much in our potions class, we headed down to our Common Room where we drank butterbeer and spent time preparing our uniforms (coloring ties) and listening to Hogwarts History (reading the Harry Potter books). It was a relaxing way to spend time before the next part of our adventure.

We then meandered down to the gym where we took part in important adventures such as rescuing Dobby (clothing relay), Quidditch practice, and walking like a spider. The cabins competed against each other and saved the day every time!

teen girls playing a game

Following our adventures, it was time for another class. We went to Wandmaking where wands chose us and then we spruced them up with paint and a nice handle. Then, a charms professor taught us a few spells, and we practiced them on each other. First, we practiced unfreezing people who had been subject to “petrificus totalus” (by making them laugh) and then we practiced the rest of the spells with a rock-paper-scissors type game.

Afterwards, we looked up and we heard voices of distress—it was Harry Potter flying across the sky (on the zipline) as Voldemort was chasing him! They came down to where the campers were sitting on the hill and dueled—Harry Potter won and we all cheered!

harry potter casting a spell

It was then time to attend dinner in The Great Hall. With lightning scars (tattoos), floating candles (posters) and owls overhead (bird cages), we enjoyed a feast. While we were eating, we sorted each other into houses based on cards on each table that listed the personality qualities of each house. We also talked about what patronus (spirit animal) would protect us. The entire day had felt magical, and it continued through announcements when Sarah Carter (filling in for Professor Dumbledore) warned us not to go to the third floor corridor or into the Forbidden Forest.

the best camp kids

For evening program, the seniors had a different kind of magical experience: it was coffee house! Coffee house is basically open mic night. With a crackling fire in the background and rich hot chocolate in hand, the girls watched their friends perform. Some girls performed songs like “Those Magic Changes” from Grease, “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse and “Put Your Records On” by Corinne Bailey Rae. Everyone sang along with songs like “Riptide” and “A Thousand Years.” Other girls performed poems, some that they had written themselves.

My favorite part about coffee house is the amount of support that each girl who performs receives. The entire line cheers for each girl with the bravery to go up and share their talents. Cabins shout, “She’s from Cabin 5!” and girls stand on the benches, giving wild applause, after their friends perform. Counselors begin to tear up as they are so proud of their campers’ performances and talents. The combination of talent, support, and warmth makes coffee house an unforgettable evening that somehow epitomizes the magic of camp for teenagers. In every way imaginable, today was a truly magical day. We were transported into a different world, but also remembered to be grateful for the camp world we have the privilege to be a part of.

A Real Adventure

We pulled up to the Fish Hatchery in Pisgah National Forest, ready for a backpacking overnight. In the van were four middlers, four seniors, and three staff members all ready and excited for the night that awaited us. We got all of our gear ready and spent time adjusting our backpacks before taking a picture and doing some basic introductions. Some of the girls were great friends while others just signed up because backpacking sounded exciting and new. After taking a ‘before’ picture, we were off to our campsite, Pickelseimer Fields (but at Rockbrook, we call it The Enchanted Forest) before heading to John Rock for sunset.

Hiking Buddies

On the way to the campsite, girls talked and laughed, but mostly stayed in their age groups. We stopped a lot for water breaks and bathroom breaks, and the question, “Are we almost there?” was commonly heard. This is normal: backpacks make every hike more exhausting, and going uphill is particularly challenging. In between, though, we also practiced a bird call that could help us get each other’s attention (coo-ee) and we sang a few camp songs because they make even the most exhausting moments better.

We were in no hurry at all, and during the flat parts, we enjoyed crossing wooden bridges and walking through muddy patches. On parts of the trail, the trees formed a kind of tunnel and it became clear why it was called The Enchanted Forest. As we stopped for a water break after a particularly tiring hill, we started talking about the three types of fun. One of the seniors explained. Type 1 Fun is like the fun of a roller coaster or a nice day at the beach; it’s easy fun that does not require much effort, but also does not give much personal satisfaction. Type 2 Fun is like a long hike. It may be challenging as it is happening, but afterward, you look back at it and would do it again because it was fulfilling and meaningful. Type 3 Fun is something you would not want to do again but it gets you where you need to be (portaging a canoe or waiting out a lightning storm). While explaining this, the senior suggested that this hike was Type 2 fun and ensured the younger girls that they would look back at it and be proud they did it.

Even with stops and starts, we were at our campsite within thirty minutes of the time that we left the parking lot of the Fish Hatchery. We found a great campsite near a creek that had a big firepit and plenty of room for camping. Each age group had their own tent, so we encouraged everyone to quickly pitch their tents so we could catch the sunset at John Rock. As the girls were preparing their tents, two of us found a perfect sourwood tree over the creek to hang the bear bag. After eating a few snacks and getting more water, we were off for our hike.

At first, the hike was easy as we did not have backpacks weighing us down. We climbed over fallen trees and crossed creeks, hoping the sun was still up, though we could not see it through the branches. At one point, we came across a bees’ nest, and a couple of girls got stung. Everyone was a little shaken up, but none of the girls were allergic, so we decided to take a break and regroup. We have been trained in wilderness medicine, so we treated everyone’s stings and mostly tried to calm down as a group. As we treated stings, the seniors kept everyone else distracted and calm by getting to know the middlers. In fact, one of the seniors mentioned to me later that she was quite scared of the stings, but she knew that if she was calm about it, the middlers would be too. They started playing a game, “pancakes or waffles,” and slowly, everyone started to calm down, ready to continue hiking.

We looked at the map and decided that, if possible, we should not go back the same way we had just come (because of the bees). The trail looped in such a way that we could get back to the camp site by passing John Rock and going around a different way. We continued hiking as twilight hit, and we made it to John Rock while there was still light in the sky. The view took our breaths away. We were astonished by the vastness of the forest and by our smallness. Instantly after stepping on the rock, we all agreed that the journey was worth it.

Nightime Overlook

It’s a truth that I have found in hiking: no matter how difficult a journey may be, reaching the destination makes every moment of tiredness and every obstacle okay. You realize that it was always going to be okay, though you could not always see it, and the immediate reward makes any past adversity almost vanish from your mind.

After getting a few pictures and taking the view in, we decided it was time to head back to camp. We continued following our loop, ready with water bottles and flashlights. We walked and walked, and some girls got tired and nervous as we continued to check the map. We always knew where we were, but the hike did take longer than we originally anticipated because we were walking around a loop. We talked to the girls and showed them where they were, but we also let them take care of each other. The senior girls stepped in again, keeping up good spirits and laughing throughout the hike. They played games and assured the middlers that they had no reason to be scared.

The beautiful part of this story is that it worked. All of the girls who were nervous were able to dig in and keep walking further than they thought possible. At some point, everyone realized that asking how much further we had to go was counterproductive. We entered a point where we realized reaching our destination was something we would do together and only putting one foot in front of the other would help us get there. When we turned on to the bypass or realized we were at the final stretch, we all rejoiced together. When we saw the bear bag hanging over the tree on the creek, we cheered and hugged, relieved that we had all completed this adventure, supremely satisfied with the work we had just done. It was Type 2 fun (or as one senior said, Type 2.5 Fun), and we were filled up in a way that we had rarely experienced.

Hiking Food

When we got back to the campsite, we made a small fire and ate burritos. The girls roasted marshmallows and we read a few thoughts about teamwork that related to our journey. A former NOLS instructor, Morgan Hite, once reflected, “Life can be simple and this is a good place to experience that. We need to be tired and cold and hungry, and then make ourselves a hot meal and go to our sleeping bags to realize that life is complete and how rarely we experience that.” At the end of the day, we were tired and hungry, but we were able to work through these things because we were part of a team. We had everything we needed, but we never would have known it without going on such a journey.

The next morning, we ate oatmeal and effortlessly hiked out. There was lightness in the air as everyone talked and laughed, no longer divided by age groups, but bonded together by yesterday’s adventures. We no longer cared about wearing heavy backpacks or getting muddy shoes (it also helped that we were journeying downhill). The final thing we did was to take an ‘after’ picture, in the exact same positions we were in the day before.

Hiking Camp Girls

The picture was great, but could not accurately capture the journey we had been through together. We made an arc during this backpacking trip: we started somewhere and ended up somewhere different. Over the course of sixteen hours, the seniors were leaders and role models, pushing past their own tiredness or bee stings for the greater good of the group. The middlers became great team members and realized that, despite being pushed a little, they were able to accomplish whatever their goal was. The risk of real danger was low throughout the entire journey. We had a map, water, fully stocked first aid kit, and a lot of experience on our side.

Even so, our hike was real. The only way back was for all of us to work together, to pay attention, and to keep walking. We couldn’t take a shortcut or conjure a hot plate of food. But I think that is what makes backpacking such a profound experience. We work for everything we have, so even just arriving back to a tent site is cause for a celebration. We give ourselves a real-time challenge (getting to a destination) and we rely on each person we are with to help us solve it.

We got back a few days ago, and ever since we have been back, I have noticed the backpackers still look at each other a little differently. They still talk about their experiences, and we are making bracelets from the bear bag rope as a symbol of the bond. We all grew through the challenge, learned a lot about each other, and learned a lot about ourselves.