Originally from Charleston, WV, Mini Dunn studies History at Rhodes College and earned an MSED from Northwestern University. She has been a cabin counselor, hiking guide, and senior staff member for many years at Rockbrook Camp. She is well known at camp for her marvelous puns and positive sense of humor.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As girls start getting settled into camp and third session has started going full swing, most of them have found that they feel right at home in their cabins. I love looking at how different cabins look and feel. Some are decorated with fairy lights, a camp “bucket list” of all the things the cabin wants to accomplish throughout the session, plus many photographs of camp from years past and friends and family from home. Everything is starting to feel cozy, the noises of the night no longer so scary, the bunk beds and friends ever more inviting.
In addition to the physical space in which we are residing, everyone is starting to get more comfortable with one another. We are moving past basic questions and getting in to the ease that comes with being around good friends. This was particularly appreciated today because we got to hang out as cabins all afternoon—it was Cabin Day! For Cabin Day, we cancel the two afternoon activities and counselors plan fun activities for their individual cabins. Everyone looks forward to cabin day— it usually means an extra special activity, some good snacks, and, of course, lots of time spent bonding together!
The counselors put a lot of work planning activities they think their individual cabins will enjoy, and it definitely showed today! One group of junior counselors knew their girls loved playing with hair, so they spray painted hair (it’s temporary!) and braided the girls’ hair. This made every girl have the opportunity to be wacky, but also to feel special as they all had fun helping each other to do some fun hair dos.
Another junior cabin loves fairies (which is something I hear more about at Rockbrook than anywhere else—there is something that is just magical about it). Their counselors planned a great adventure for them, and I loved hearing all about it from the girls! They hiked to Stick Biscuit Falls (the nearest waterfall from camp—you can actually see the waterfall from the new office building) and searched for fairies. Then, after romping around in the woods and finding an adventurous trail back down the mountain, the girls made their own fairy wings! In addition, they came up with their own fairy identities— I heard of a football fairy, a flower fairy, and a nature fairy! The girls told me that their cabin had made a pact to wear their fairy wings at every meal (while they made sure to point out that other fairy accessories were encouraged, but they were not required). This seems like a small detail of a camper’s time at Rockbrook, but these are the magical parts of camp, the things that give cabins a certain identity that they will remember for years to come.
The middlers decided to do something as a line for cabin day, and I saw so much excitement as the girls raced up and down the lines. In light of the Pokémon Go craze, the middler counselors decided to bring Pokémon Go to Rockbrook! Each counselor dressed up as a Pokémon and some hid while others went around with the girls. Much like a scavenger hunt, the girls went from station to station and acquired different treats (that were in Easter Eggs) as though they were collecting Pokemon. Then, they got to decorate cookies that looked like the different characters. Finally, to cap off a great cabin day, they all had a “battle” in the gym by playing dodge ball. Everyone had an amazing time and all the middlers were grateful for all the thought their counselors had put into the activity.
For their cabin day, the seniors had a picnic for dinner and then went to Sliding Rock and Dolly’s. The picnic was perfect—the girls ate quiche, warm lasagna, fresh peaches (possibly the best peaches I’ve ever had), and banana pudding. We then played a large group game of “I’m a Rockbrook Girl and You’re a Rockbrook Girl too,” which is a tradition at these picnics and an opportunity for all of us to learn new things about others. Then, girls went down Sliding Rock— they loved the opportunity to slide as many times as they wanted. Though cold afterward, everyone was excited for Dolly’s, the local ice cream shop that names its flavors for the local camps.
No matter which adventure they were a part of, every camper enjoyed Cabin Day. It makes us all to feel more connected with our cabin and lets counselors be creative, choosing things their particular campers will enjoy. Above all, though, growing closer as cabins allows us to feel even more comfortable with each other, and therefore even happier and more at home at camp.
As second session girls prepared to depart, they wrote many of their thoughts about camp down for Spirit Fire. Girls from every line are invited to speak in front of the rest of the camp about what this summer at Rockbrook has meant to them. These speeches were particularly thoughtful; as such a long and beautiful session ended, sincere sentiments were met with smiles and tears as the girls prepared to leave. Although it is now third session, it seems like a great time to share this poem that two campers created and read at the end of second session spirit fire. I expect that all girls who have ever been to Rockbrook (or who are coming for the first time) will be able to relate to it.
It’s hard to explain what home really is.
Your friends at school,
Your group, your clique,
Pressure getting A’s,
Pressure fitting in:
The love and care from mom and dad,
The entertainment from brothers and sisters
A variety of choices
From restaurants to malls:
It’s hard to explain what home really is.
Your friends in your cabin,
A fun group, but not a clique
The pressure fitting in is not as much of a challenge
Growing, learning to be myself:
To be my type of perfect.
Love and care from counselors and directors,
Entertainment from the hi-ups and CA’s, our role models
A variety of choices:
Adventures, activities, creativity:
Not the usual,
Once a year…
How can two places, so special, so different, still be home?
Stripped away from air conditioning, electronics, and carpeted floors?
Home away from luxury–
It’s hard to explain what home really is.
I guess we all have two.
Written for Second Session Spirit Fire by Karma B. and Sam H.
One of the things [Uncle Alex] found objectionable about human beings was that they so rarely noticed it when they were happy. He himself did his best to acknowledge it when times were sweet. We could be drinking lemonade in the shade of an apple tree in the summertime, and Uncle Alex would interrupt the conversation to say, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”
So I hope that you will do the same for the rest of your lives. When things are going sweetly and peacefully, please pause a moment, and then say out loud, “If this isn’t nice, what is?” -Kurt Vonnegut
Girls savored today as it was the last normal day of camp. Tomorrow, we have banquet, and the day after is the play and Spirit Fire. Today brought us opportunities to finish mermaid laps and Rockbrook running miles. It was a day to give away friendship bracelets and to relish the simplicity of talking to a circle of good friends in front of the cabin.
We have been at camp for quite awhile at this point, and with the end looming so close, I wanted to step back and consider those moments where all is well with the world. These are not the big moments that might stand out in our minds when we think of camp, but the little ones where everything is just going right. There are so many small and beautiful moments at camp, but they happen so quickly that if we don’t acknowledge them, we can take them for granted. We live good lives at camp, and when I zoomed out my perspective, I began to consider the small moments of loveliness that I can overlook after spending many days in this wonderful place.
At camp, we live in a world where…
A fresh-baked muffin greets us every mid-morning. We ate fresh-baked, cinnamon apple muffins that were still warm from the oven. We get a new muffin flavor every day, which makes the rainiest days cozy and gives all of us a little extra warmth from the bakers. It’s a social time, too, as the news of the muffin flavor travels up and down hills and girls bring muffins to their friends who are in hard-to-reach places. I think that starting the day with a muffin makes the day that much better.
We spend all day playing outside and learning new things. Sometimes, we become so caught up in exactly what an activity is doing every day that we forget that we are spending our days playing. What kind of day could be more incredible than one that includes kayaking on a lake, making a pinch pot, and hiking to Castle Rock…all within about six hours? These are days lived fully, where we appreciate every ounce of free time we have.
Our best friends are our neighbors and we all like each other and are the kind of neighbors who would gladly lend a cup of sugar (or a pair of shoes or costume)! Each line forms a beautiful community of girls who are comfortable with each other. At this point, every cabin has girls from other cabins popping in and out of it; the cabins are much more cohesive than they were three short weeks ago. It is so convenient to be surrounded by good friends all of the time, always ready for a game of cards or a walk to the camp store. The counselors know all of the campers on their line, and when we gather together, there is a feeling of community that encompasses the entire room.
We can choose how to spend our free time and we engage fully throughout that free time. Today, I played tennis with a camper during a free swim, and we had a great time practicing strokes and improving our skills. Many of the girls in my cabin ran with Rockbrook Runners. Then, for another free swim, we took a cabin hike to Castle Rock, a huge rock face that overlooks camp. Sometimes, free time will include One Direction dance parties or badminton tournaments. This time is not always so structured, but if anyone has an idea, we try our hardest to make it happen. We value this time and we try to make the most of it, even on the days that means relaxing and talking to friends on the porch.
We are explorers of the world (or at least Western North Carolina), and we never know what we are going to run into! Our corner of the world is filled with animals and vegetation. The juniors teach the rest of us to explore the world–they are constantly sticking their feet in the creek looking for salamanders and skinks. Other girls decide that they want to romp around the forest and see waterfalls. Camp give us the place, the tools, and the friends to explore the world and teaches us to be more observant.
As these girls prepare to leave and we begin to reflect on what distinguishes camp from the rest of the world, I think these are five things that we have really been doing at camp. To cap off a beautiful day, I went to the Rockbrook Garden with a small group of campers. We showed each other the zesty verbena plant, plucked some strawberries off the vine, and smelled the gentle lavender plant. I realized that at Rockbrook, there are so many moments where I just need to step back and sigh, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”
Ever since Harry Potter Day, I have been thinking a lot about personality. In the context of Harry Potter, it comes down to which house would I be in? The brave and chivalrous Gryffindor? The friendly and loyal Hufflepuff? The intellectual, witty Ravenclaw? The ambitious, cunning Slytherin? Of course, personality is not so neatly cut between these categories (and that is never how it was originally intended in the series). Still, the diversity of personalities at camp is possibly its greatest treasure. Rockbrook, in particular, is a place where girls from many personalities can fit right in and feel at home. Girls are free to be honest and bold, or shy and peaceful; there are times when outgoing and loud girls let their personalities shine, but also times for quiet contemplation. Today’s agenda displayed how Rockbrook is able to play to all kinds of interests and personalities, and how everyone can find a part of the day that fulfills their needs.
Everyone was looking forward to today, a day that allowed us to sleep in and get some needed rest as we prepared for our final week at camp. We awoke at nine and then went to breakfast in our pajamas. Krispie Kreme donuts were placed on our tables, a favorite Sunday tradition, and then we went back to cabins to get in whities and get ready for chapel.
We stood in a horseshoe shape and raised the flag before quietly reflecting on the walk to chapel. Chapel is one of my favorite spaces and times at camp. So often, camp is loud: singing in the dining hall, cheering on friends on the hill. During chapel, though, we find a peaceful place to reflect on an important theme of camp. Today’s theme was bliss, or the light continuous feeling of happiness. The senior line led chapel this morning, so two girls played guitar as girls filed in. Then, they led song such as ‘Let’s Go Fly a Kite’ (complete with kites as props), ‘Unwritten,’ and ‘Wildflowers.’ The girls spoke about what bliss meant to them and how it related to life at camp.
After chapel, we cleaned cabins and tried to get our belongings organized. Sunday provides a perfect opportunity to reset for the week ahead. Then, we gathered on the hill for another Sunday tradition, Assembly on the Hill. This is a time that is loud where girls and cabins get recognized for their efforts throughout the week. All of the lines sing their line song loudly and then line heads present cabins and individuals with awards. The Mop Award is for the cabin that has the most points from inspection, and the Spirit Award, Manners Award, and Bend-a-Back Award go to individual campers who have been examples of spirit, etiquette, and going above and beyond for others. It is a challenging decision because there are so many reasons every camper could earn each award! Then, all of the mermaids and bull’s-eye club members were honored. Assembly on the Hill is a great time to show your cabin pride and so many girls cheered loudly for their friends as they were honored!
This afternoon, we had Miss RBC. This is a time-honored Rockbrook tradition where cabins gather together to present a short skit, song, or dance in front of the rest of camp. This year, we have asked campers not to use background music (they couldn’t use an iPod) so they had to be more creative and come up with their own music. Their talents were amazing—some cabins performed skits about life in the dining hall; some cabins danced and stomped; some made Rockbrook versions of songs (“We started as Pen Pals, and now we’re besties” was substituted for “So here’s my number, now call me maybe”). This was an event where every girl could get involved. Girls have a lot of practice planning performances because they plan skits most nights during evening program. In our cabin, many girls love dancing, so they were able to patiently teach everyone a dance that everyone agreed on in record time! The performances were met with enthusiastic response for every cabin, and we were all thoroughly entertained while listening to a representative from each cabin answer fun questions like “If you had a pool of Jello, what kind would you jump in and why?”
For twilight tonight, we had a very special event: a string trio and quartet from the Brevard Music Center came to Rockbrook and gave us a performance as we ate dessert! One of the musicians talked about the different periods in musical history (baroque, classical, and romantic), and they played examples of each. Girls had the opportunity to ask about the instruments and the experiences of each musician. Sitting there listening to beautiful music after an action-packed and energy-filled day could not have been a better end to the day. Many girls loved the opportunity to listen to fine music and get lost in their own thoughts as inspired by what was being played. It was a calmer, more contemplative (yet still interactive) way to spend the evening, and it made me appreciate how everyone could take something beautiful away from this day.
We lived a lovely day today. Chapel and the string ensemble gave us time to be contemplative and reflect on all of the action we have lived. Miss RBC and Assembly on the Hill gave us times to be loud and enthusiastic, basking in the spirit of camp. In the coming, final days, we will find other activities that meet our needs. Activities like curosty, needlecraft, and yoga give us a calm space to center ourselves whereas sports and games, swimming, and climbing give us more opportunities to live out loud. At Rockbrook, some girls like to have conversations in small groups whereas others love big groups and being the life of the party. Some girls love crowds and spirit, and others love the calm peace of nature. Most girls love both, which is great, because Rockbrook is able to provide an atmosphere that suits every type of girl and that celebrates every type of personality.
“The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.”
One benefit of going to camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina is all of the adventures that await us in our own backyard! The outdoor staff at Rockbrook relish in the opportunities they get to introduce campers to all of the excitement that surrounds our camp. One hike has been particularly popular this year. It’s called the Wet ‘n’ Wild Hike. The adventure staff haven’t really explained it beyond that—they want to leave a lot of the surprise in it for girls who have not gone yet. Still, I have been pretty curious about it every time I hear it announced, so I decided to try to get the inside scoop from some of the campers who went on the hike today.
My anonymous source, a member of the elite outdoor staff, gave me the full story. For the sake of this post, we will call her Rita. This morning, Rita made a cryptic announcement that a Wet and Wild Hike would be happening. Murmurs filled the dining hall: campers had heard about this hike, but what would actually happen on it? After twelve lucky girls signed up, the trip was off! Rita co-piloted the van and tried to find tunes the girls would love to set the right mood for their hike. They drove into Pisgah National Forest and got out of the van at Cove Creek. The real adventure was to begin!
The hike begins with a walk through a few fields and campgrounds. At this point, the campers are somewhat confused because there is no water present. Eventually, they bump into the creek and the real adventure begins. There are tiny, rambling trails, and they walk through a confusing and twisted path until they hear the sound of a waterfall. They stand at the base of the waterfall, eating muffins and discussing waterfall safety. With at least 712 waterfalls in Transylvania County (the county Rockbrook is a part of), it seems most relevant to have this conversation. After the refreshments, the girls played with a baby skink, a lizard common in the area, and enjoyed playing in the waterfall.
After that, they voyaged back toward the van and the second part of their hike. They carefully crossed slippery rocks (Rita says they always make sure to note that “there is no shame in crab walking”) and they get on yet another side trail. The girls are elated to find that this leads to a miniature sliding rock—a natural rockface they can slide down! The girls enjoy the perfect day and slide until they are content. Rita says that, at this point, the hike “feels like Eden.” There is such simplicity in the hike, just girls purely playing outside!
The third part of the hike is Rita’s favorite. After hiking on another side trail, the girls arrive at potholes. After talking about how potholes form, Rita talked about how they couldn’t swim in it because it only went knee-deep. Then, Rita fell backwards! The girls were nervous for her, but she popped out of the water laughing. In fact, the potholes were about eight feet deep, so the girls enjoyed swimming and playing in them. On another pothole, water shoots the girls out into the deep part, and the girls took advantage of this many times.
Following such a full hike and pure bliss, it was time to scramble back up the hill and get back into the vans. The girls were told to keep the hike a secret, for the outdoor staff wanted the surprises to exist for everyone who has not yet gone on this hike. They were then treated to a feast of a lunch: homemade chicken soup, chips and salsa, and pineapple—what a perfect meal!
Mini session seniors and middlers got to continue our Wet ‘n’ Wild adventures today for cabin day! After enjoying a delicious picnic dinner and playing a few rounds of “I’m a Rockbrook Girl,” a beloved game, we all got to go to Sliding Rock! Sliding Rock is a natural waterslide that is in Pisgah Forest. It’s sixty feet long, and girls start at the top before taking a wild ride down freezing cold water before plunging into a pool at the bottom. Counselors are standing at the top to help girls get settled and prevent slipping, and life guards are in the water at the bottom, throwing girls floating tubes and reeling them in! The girls can go two-by-two, so many choose to go with a friend or a counselor. Campers are given the choice of whether they want to slide or not, but we had a particularly excited group last night, and many chose to take the plunge! Some girls went as many as five times, and everyone had a perfect time!
After Sliding Rock, we all piled back in to heated vans (some of us were very cold after our adventure) and headed to Dolly’s for some well-deserved ice cream. Girls look forward all session to their trip to Dolly’s, a local dairy bar that offers special edition ice creams named for local camps. Some girls have a favorite flavor (Illahee is very popular, a combination of cookie dough and brownies, other girls love Rockbrook, an extremely chocolaty concoction), while others try to branch out and try all of the flavors. Every girl also got a sticker with the Dolly’s logo, which many put on their trunks and water bottles when we got back to camp. We all sat around in rocking chairs or at tables enjoying ice cream and singing our favorite Rockbrook songs. It was fun seeing the two lines together—girls got to interact across the ages and get to know other campers they are less likely to meet. We ended by singing both the Senior Line Song and the Middler Line Song before we heard a familiar, “Hey Rockbrook, this train is leaving the station!” at which point we got back in the vans and returned to camp, ready for bedtime after such an exhilarating day.
Part of the beauty of our summers is that they give us the opportunity to get Wet ‘n’ Wild on a daily basis. We aren’t nearly as shy as we might otherwise be of “getting our hair wet” (literally and metaphorically) as we might usually be. Some girls are adventurous by nature. They jump in to wild adventures because they look fun. Others (and I might be in this category) are more reserved because they consider how cold they might be after, or how tired they might be because of a long hike, or how they could slip on a rock. Rockbrook has taught me to be more adventurous, though, because I have learned that when I say ‘yes’ to any adventure, I never have regrets. By the end of Sliding Rock, I wound up thoroughly chilled with a minorly stubbed toe. Yet these minor discomforts were discounted by the thrill of going down Sliding Rock with a good friend and being able to have a shared experience with the rest of the senior line.
Rockbrook gives us the room to decide for ourselves when to leave our comfort zones, but I think we all do in our own way. Maybe we decide to go down Sliding Rock because our friends cheer for us and convince us that it will be worth being cold. Or maybe we go on a kayaking adventure that frightens us because we are just learning to be more confident about skills. We might try riding the bull on a whitewater raft even though we may fall out. It will happen for each girl in its own way, but I think living at Rockbrook makes every girl a little more in touch with her wild side.
“Kinder than is necessary. Because it’s not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed…If every person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary – the world really would be a better place.”
–RJ Palacio, Wonder
Many of my campers love the book Wonder by RJ Palacio. In it, a boy named Auggie, who was born with facial abnormalities, goes to middle school for the first time. Through shifting perspectives and realistic characters, the book ends up being an excellent argument for kindness.
This book resonates at Rockbrook particularly because, in many ways, Rockbrook’s foundation is a culture of kindness. There is something gentler about being here, something that causes everyone to be a little more patient with each other, to go out of our way for someone else. With mini session girls starting their first day of camp, it was fun to see how they were welcomed into camp and became a part of this culture.
In Jewelry Making, girls made beaded necklaces. I saw many girls not making it for themselves only, but giving their necklaces to friends. They put their friends’ initials on them–entire cabins now match with beaded necklaces and bracelets. They enjoyed having a fun and colorful identity for the entire cabin to sport around camp! I’ve also seen many friendship bracelets being given to good friends. I even saw one girl giving a particularly intricate bracelet to a friend on the first day of camp! We all wondered how she had made the bracelet so quickly, but she said that she had been working on the bracelet throughout the year, ready to give it to a friend when she finally saw her at camp! It is impressive to consider how much these bonds continue throughout the year.
Hodge Podge is an activity where girls make really fun crafts. I don’t know of a better way to describe it–they make flubber, which is a gooey playdough-like creation. It doesn’t make much of a mess, but feels really weird and makes fun sounds! They also tie-dye shirts and fun pillows. Today was a flubber day, and the girls had so much fun talking to each other and making flubber. After, everyone let their friends play with their fun creations and it became a hit in the cabins.
I see this culture of kindness the most frequently in the dining hall. Our dining hall is wonderful and neighborly, and even though they are in close quarters, the girls are able to work together to make sure that everyone has enough space and can get in and out for food. We are constantly borrowing things from other tables, but today, I noticed that a lot of tables were also making sure that others have enough. Sometimes, girls will volunteer to be the ones to get up and get more food, even if they did not take the last thing. Girls will go out of their way to show new campers where the water spigot is, or where to find the extra spoons. After dinner, a camper from our cabin volunteered to help clean the table when it was not her night. These things might seem small, maybe even too small to mention, but these are the things that create the atmosphere in which we live.
It’s impossible to talk about kindness at Rockbrook and not mention the Hi-Up Campers. These are the oldest campers at Rockbrook, and they have many responsibilities that help keep camp running. They help out with the dishes, choose which songs to sing at meals, sort mail, get ready for special events, and help out with activities, among other things! This group of hi-ups has gone above and beyond to make all of the other campers feel loved. At twilight, hi-ups are frequently seen on the hill playing with the juniors and braiding their hair. They are constantly walking other girls to the barn, and helping out when any of the younger girls are feeling homesick. They show patience and love to the younger girls. In Nature, for example, hi-ups helped the juniors avoid slipping on rocks on a hike to Rockbrook Falls. Their spirit of helping others has resonated throughout the camp, making the other campers feel supported and welcomed!
Wherever you go at Rockbrook, you can’t help but notice this sense of gentleness and willingness to do things for others. Girls volunteered to sweep the lodge last night when their friends were on the rafting trip. Others helped comfort girls who were homesick. In one middler cabin, girls who had been to camp for years spent time trying to help a new friend who was experiencing homesickness. They asked her a lot of questions about her home life and tried to apply all of those things to camp–it truly helped the homesick camper and made her feel more at home here at camp.
Within this culture that so regularly exudes kindness as a philosophy, it doesn’t take long for girls to feel comfortable and at home. We aren’t competing against each other. Instead, we all want the best for each other. I see campers make being kinder than is necessary a rule in their lives at camp, whether consciously or unconsciously, they intentionally make decisions that brighten the lives of others. During each of these times, when girls go the extra mile, they are making their cabin, their line, and the camp has a whole a more generous place. Kindness is contagious, and in living this way at camp, I think this kind of generosity extends when campers return home.