Moments of Community

On Sundays around here we put aside our regular schedule of activities in favor of larger group gatherings and events. It begins with a welcome opportunity to sleep in a bit because the wake up bell rings at 9am instead of 8. The girls come straight to breakfast wearing their pajamas and find a special treat of doughnuts along with their regular breakfast items like eggs, fresh fruit, yogurts, and cereal.

NC Camp in the mountains

Sunday morning is also a time when the girls wear their camp uniforms: the white polo shirt, white shorts, and red tie tied loosely with a “friendship knot.” The staff members wear their red uniform polo shirts and white shorts. Once dressed in these uniforms the whole camp lines up on the hill for a flag raising ceremony conducted by the Hi-Up campers. After the Hi-Ups raise the American flag, along with a white, Rockbrook 100-year Anniversary flag, everyone recites the Pledge of Allegiance and sings “America the Beautiful.” It’s a nice moment, shared by the entire camp community, singing that familiar song on the sunny, grassy hill with the blue ridge mountains in the distance.

Next is our Chapel gathering. Ordinarily the girls process silently to a special area of camp in the woods where the whole camp can squeeze onto low benches arranged in tiers. To provide better distancing this summer, we held the gathering on the Rockbrook House lawn, a prominent place in Rockbrook’s history. Our “Chapel” is not a religious ceremony. It’s a program that gets the campers themselves to reflect on a concept or idea central to life at camp. It incorporates songs, readings, campers’ speeches, and usually a children’s book read by Sarah. Past Chapel themes have been honesty, nature, friendship (of course!), respect, and trust. Today’s theme was “Community.” The girls talked about community (“being accepted for who you are” came up.), sang “We’re all in this Together” and Sarah read excerpts from the book You are Special. The Chapel only lasts a few minutes, but the girls seemed to appreciate the chance to slow down and think a little about what camp means to them.

After Chapel we had an assembly on the hill and recognized cabin groups and individuals for their contributions to the camp community. Each cabin of girls works together each day to keep their cabin clean. They rotate through a series of jobs to do so: sweeping, tidying common areas, taking out the trash, etc. They receive an inspection score and each week the cabin with the best overall score is awarded a decorated mop. Winning the “mop award” is exciting for the girls as they’re cheered by the rest of the camp. They also receive a small bead as a token. There’s an individual award, and bead, called a “Bend a Back” that’s also awarded. This recognizes a person being especially helpful, going beyond what’s expected to help another person. Here too, the whole camp cheers when a person’s name is called surprising them with a “Bend a Back” award.

Our afternoon event took a direct turn toward the silly. We pulled out costumes and dressed up for an all-girls dance party, actually three dance events, one for each age group. Our theme was “prom,” but very loosely defined. Sure there were a few fancy dresses that could have been worn to a formal prom at some point, but there were also crazy combinations of tutus, headbands, traffic vests, tiaras, leis, and tie-dyes. Each age group danced separately: the juniors in the dining hall, Middlers in the hillside lodge, and the Seniors in the gym. Each had it’s own sound system to play music, with the counselors choosing age-appropriate songs. Line dances were popular with all of the age groups. All that dancing and jumping around, the girls had a great time laughing and posing for photos. Knowing everyone would be feeling hot and sweaty afterwards, the lake was open for free swim, allowing everyone to cool off.

It was a regular day at camp with clear moments of community bonding, friends being silly and playing together. The girls all experienced enthusiasm and encouragement… Every dance move no matter how polished was applauded. They felt a collective sense of freedom to create… The zany spirit that leads to the goofiest of costumes was in the air. They sang and laughed, having a blast celebrating with each other.

camp costume kids

A Jovernight

Our youngest campers at Rockbrook are girls who have finished Kindergarten, and although someone this young is rare, they can be just 5 years old. Often those “itty-bitty” girls have older sisters who come to camp, or have some other family member who has been telling them about Rockbrook. For example, they’re often children of alumnae. Along with girls who are a few years older (up to 4th grade), these youngest girls are our “Juniors.”

Junior 6 year old camp girls

The Juniors are mostly like all the other campers at Rockbrook. They sleep in cabins with other girls their same age. They eat their meals as a cabin group in the dining hall or on one of our alfresco dining porches. They also are able to take all of the in-camp activities. Like the “big girls,” they’ll shoot archery and riflery while they’re here. They’ll climb the Alpine Tower and fly through the trees (screaming their heads off with excitement!) on the zipline course. They’ll make a tie-dye t-shirt, a clay sculpture, or perhaps a woven hat of yarn. They’ll learn to ride a horse if they want to, do a cartwheel, and maybe paddle a canoe.

One difference, though, is that we don’t take Juniors on out-of-camp adventure trips like whitewater rafting, kayaking, or backpacking. In some cases our Forest Service permits include an age restriction, and in others we have found Juniors generally don’t have the strength or attention to detail that certain activities require. For the most part, Juniors stay on camp during their session, the main exception being a fun afternoon trip to Dolly’s. Dolly’s ice cream is so good, we make sure everyone goes at least once when they come to camp.

We do plan a special in-camp adventure for the Juniors each session— a sleep-out camping trip at our outpost campsite located a short distance from the center of camp. It’s an overnight for Juniors, or as many now call it, a “Jovernight.”

Junior Outpost Camping Platform

This outpost campsite includes two sleeping platforms covered with tin roofs. They are open on the sides allowing the girls to stay dry under the roofs but also feel close to the forest around them. There’s also a nice fire ring so the groups staying out there can build a campfire.

Two cabins of Juniors at a time go on a Jovernight together, one for each sleeping platform. They leave after dinner to make the short walk to the Outpost, each girl carrying her sleeping bag, pillow, water bottle, and crazy creek chair. Once out there, they lay out their sleeping bags and enjoy sitting around the campfire, singing songs, and roasting marshmallows for s’mores.

When it’s time to settle down for the night, it’s exciting to hear the sounds of the forest— crickets clicking, frogs chirping, and birds hooting. This is very different from their silent rooms at home, and can be a little unnerving for some. Lying side by side on the platforms, usually with the counselors on the outside edge, the girls can comfort each other and talk. There’s always some concern about the bugs.

As the girls share this new experience, gradually growing more comfortable, they eventually fall asleep. The counselors tell me that keeping flashlights off is the secret to getting the girls to settle down… fewer bugs in view that way! Sometimes, if the weather is threatening rain, we’ll have everyone sleep in the hillside lodge and build a nice roaring fire in the fireplace. It’s a similar experience, and a nice alternative on an extra rainy night.

Sleeping in the woods, like many of the small challenges girls experience at camp— encountering unfamiliar foods, new activities, and uncomfortable weather, for example —usually creates just a blip of concern for camp girls. They know that things aren’t always comfortable, but also that they can adapt, overcome apparent obstacles, and solve problems when they arise… and all without their parents swooping in to make it easier. With the encouragement and support of their friends in the camp community, and with the “can do” spirit of this all-girls environment, it’s just easier to feel empowered and have more grit. Slowly, as these many experiences build, camp girls gain more confidence overall. Instead of being overwhelmed, together they’re more open and excited for whatever comes along. It’s just an overnight, but at camp, it’s much, much more.

tennis camp for girls group

Spirit Fire Speeches

Tonight we closed our camp session with the traditional Rockbrook Spirit Fire. This program gathers everyone in camp around a blazing campfire to sing traditional songs, listen to campers and staff relate their camp experience, and simply ponder our favorite memories gathered over the last few weeks. It can be an emotional time, as the girls realize they’ve grown incredibly close to the friends around them, but they must go separate ways in the morning. It’s also a sweet moment where the girls sit arm-in-arm pulling their friends as close as possible. Under the huge oaks and surrounded by the chirping sounds of the nighttime forest, we’re reminded of how much camp means to us all, individually and as a community.

Here are a couple of Spirit Fire speeches delivered by campers and a staff member. They provide interesting insights into what’s important about camp to these young people. They prove that camp is not a small thing in their lives, and that the sense of well-being found at Rockbrook is real and valuable.

authentic camp friends

Hi guys. My name is Elizabeth. I’m a HUP and this is my 5th year at Rockbrook. I still remember my first year as if it was yesterday. I remember how nervous I was and also how excited I was for all the things Rockbrook has to offer. As soon as I arrived I instantly felt at home. All of the counselors and returning campers made me feel as though I’d been here 10 years. I especially remember the HUPs. As I arrived at camp for the very first time I was greeted with excitement and enthusiasm by all the Hi-Ups. Every year since the Hi-Ups before me have had a huge influence on me. They got me excited for things and served as a big sister to me. My whole camp experience the Hi-Ups seemed so old and mature, and now as a Hi-Up, I can tell you that is not how I feel. It doesn’t seem right that I’m old enough to be a Hi-Up but this has been one of the best summers of my life. The bond I have with each and every one of you is something I will never forget. So, thank you all for making my Hi-Up year live up to my expectations. Finally, I particularly remember Spirit Fire from 3 years ago. Sarah Carter said something about finding your chocolate chip cookie friend. I turned to the girl next to me and said “that’s you.” So now to be reading this speech in my final year as a camper with my chocolate chip cookie friend beside me feels surreal. My hope for all of you is that you find your chocolate chip cookie friend. Rockbrook is filled with so many amazing people, and I can truly say that I have met my best friends here. So thank you to all the Hi-Ups, all the counselors over the past 5 years, and everyone else. I love you all.

— Elizabeth
light candle camp girl

Hi my name is Sarah and this is my third year at camp. I can remember coming to drop off my friend Lauren just to see what camp was and instantly wanting to come back as a camper. The whole way home I was talking Cindi’s ear off with questions and comments. The next year I was nervous but so excited at the same time. I was so shy but slowly started to come out of my shell. That summer ended up being better than I could have ever imagined. At my first Spirit Fire, I remember Sarah Carter talking about Rockbrook being home for so many and in that moment it became home for me too. Something else that stuck with me was Sarah talking about having a chocolate chip cookie friend, someone who makes you feel warm inside and who makes you feel safe to be your truest self. I’m happy to say at my first Spirit Fire I found mine and I hope you find yours too. I can say that having my chocolate chip cookie friend stand next to me at my last Spirit Fire as a camper means so much. Rockbrook has taught me to be myself and given me a home away from home. To my Hi-Ups, through ups and downs, the bonds we’ve made will stay with me forever and I love you all. As a Hi-Up I know this is my last year as a camper but looking around I hope it won’t be my last year at home.

— Sarah
camper friends hug

Hi everyone, my name is Courtney, and this is my first year as a counselor at Rockbrook. A year ago, I didn’t even know Rockbrook existed; I was most likely sitting at home, alone, because as you know, there was (and still is) a global pandemic. Now, fortunately, I’m standing here speaking to so many new, happy and familiar faces all at once as we share this same space. It’s funny how life continually surprises you. 

Each of you has already taught me so many things. I’ve expanded my vocabulary, learning new words like spricket or “bee bop.” The other day, a junior named Maya taught me about a zeptosecond: how long it takes an atom to pass through a photon. I’ve learned how to create differently too, making friendship bracelets out of old string and transferring the color from flowers to dye fabric. But, what I think I cherish most is what you all have shown me everyday. You have shown me how powerful the daily gift of being present can be, the energy that can be found when you pay attention to the overflowing bits of gratitude found in the moment you look up at the sky, notice the ground beneath your toes, or really listen to a friend.

It’s a wonderful thing to witness a community where people are supported throughout the arduous process of not only being but becoming themselves. I think it says even more about that same community when it extends those same arms of love and encouragement to new people. I think that Rockbrook is that community, and that is a very special thing to find. 

I hope that we will hold onto this haven and this promise we have made to love and accept people as they are now and in the future. Let us protect and cherish it and not let change make us afraid of breaking it. I know that I will carry these experiences of genuine kindness from others with me, these moments when I’ve been affirmed the greatest truths in life are the simplest. 

I hope that we will all take up this partnership with growth and continue it after our days at Rockbrook have come to pass in a literal sense. This project to carry seeds of kindness with us and pass them on to anyone we can. To remember to nurture your listening ear and continually plant the same values of acceptance and love that we sing about in our songs, that spark into existence when our hands touch as we pass bowls at the breakfast table, and when we bend our backs for a stranger and a friend.

— Courtney

Girls often talk about the “Spirit of Rockbrook” and how a “Rockbrook Girl” embodies that spirit and the personal qualities it brings about. The Spirit Fire is named to represent that spirit, to call our attention to it, and to strengthen it as we gather together. Tonight everyone felt that strengthening.

It’s been a wonderful session at Rockbrook. Much like a rebirth, campers and staff members returned to camp this summer to find the same positive community, the same beautiful setting, and the same feelings of fun and friendship they love about being here. Worries about Covid-19 were quickly and easily managed, allowing us to focus on the people around us, the activities and special events, and simply living the carefree, healthy lifestyle Rockbrook provides. Thank you everyone for helping to make this possible, and for being a part of Rockbrook!

Camp girls hugging at campfire

Once Upon a Banquet

Tonight the CA campers, our 9th grade girls, presented their surprise themed banquet, the whole-camp party celebrating our time together at camp. After weeks of planning, which began on their very first day at camp, these girls had an elaborate evening of costumes, decorations, skits, games, dances, food and snacks ready to entertain and amaze the rest of the campers and staff.

unicron horse

The evening began with the arrival of news delivered by a fairy riding a unicorn. This white horse-like animal with a colorful crown of flowers circling his single horn proudly trotted into camp as a line colorful fairies, princesses, mermaids, and pirates cheered. The youngest campers were wide-eyed with astonishment as the unicorn rode past. It was then that we learned tonight’s banquet would be in three locations, with each age group rotating though the locations every 40 minutes or so.

This would be a “progressive” banquet transporting the campers from under the sea, to a land of pirates and princesses, to an enchanted forest populated by glowing, sparkly fairies.

camp banquet party fun

The hillside lodge was decorated with an ocean theme. Mermaids helped the campers play games like “pin the trident on the merman,” and “throw the pearl in the clam,” a version of corn hole. They decorated a banner with everyone’s names on it to preserve the banquet and the names in history.

At the gym, the campers found princesses and pirates locked in a heated struggle, but also castles and dragons. Dance numbers turned the gym into a dance party. A highlight was a painted portrait of Jeff and Sarah as a King and Queen.

The last location was the dining hall which was decorated with a forest theme and many tea candle lights. Glowing princesses danced and delivered food to the campers: “shipwreck salad,” “Fresh Fairy Fruit,” “Treasure Trove Tortellini,” “Royal Rosemary” chicken breasts, and “Ballroom Brownies.” Of course the tables included a variety of candies and souvenir red cups as well.

camp group hug

After all three lines visited all three locations, everyone in camp assembled on the hill to hear the CA and Hi-Up songs. This is another long tradition at Rockbrook where these groups of campers show their appreciation for their counselors by writing a song for them and singing it in front of all the other girls. They take a familiar tune and rewrite the lyrics making references to their time together, recalling funny moments, and using silly nicknames or phrases. Counselors of each group do the same for the campers too. So we heard 4 songs altogether.

Lastly, it’s a tradition for the whole camp to sing “Rockbrook Camp Forever,” one of the oldest traditional songs that everyone knows. Dressed in their red RBC t-shirts, each cabin group gathered arm-in-arm in a big group hug, counselors and campers together. They sang and swayed singing the song multiple times. It’s a sweet moment representing the friendships formed in each cabin group.

The banquet was a beautiful success, easily one of the best in recent memory. The girls loved all three locations and appreciated all the hard work the CA girls did to make it happen. What a wonderful way to celebrate the session!

Costume teenage campers

Reliving the Magic

Over 25 years ago I was a counselor, and this summer it feels as though I’ve come home to relive the magic of camp.

Morning view from Castle Rock NC

Long ago mornings at camp began with Rockbrook runners and I’m happy to say that opportunity has grown to have many campers running and walking a beautiful (and hilly) loop around camp. During free time campers and counselors may run or walk or a combination of both along the knobby hills and alongside the creek.

Nowadays my mornings have varied: taking a hike to Castle Rock that can unveil a new perspective, enjoying peaceful moments to write and reflect, or having time to take a much needed shower. A recent morning I happily used the early quiet before the rising bell to read and type up journal entries from one hundred years ago. The women adventurers who led the inaugural summer of 1921 have the same spirit felt at Rockbrook today. The journal entries feel more exciting than finishing my book right now. I’m not sure what is more amazing and beautiful, the way they wrote so eloquently and efficiently or the open spirit of adventure and ‘can do’ attitude that were so clearly a part of Rockbrook days. Not the drizzling rain nor torrential pours would stop them from an outdoor adventure!

Rockbrook Sunset Hill

There was and still is a rushing around at camp that might start with the constant sounds of the water flowing in the creek or nearby waterfall, then it’s eager campers running to their next activity or maybe to a muffin break. This feeling of haste is a welcome one; a retreat from life outside of camp and brings me to those summers a quarter of a century ago. There are of course the moments that also slow down time, when I see campers focused and chatting while working on a project or hopping along the creek searching for crawfish and salamanders and playing along the lake edge scooping up tadpoles. Campers might also be relaxing reading, knitting, or sketching in a crazy creek. There are the familiar smiles and songs along with silly and savvy announcements and twilight dance parties or sunset on the hill.

Cat Sobieszczyk

Rockbrook’s pace, living outdoors, surrounded by new friends has been the anxiety reducing treatment I didn’t anticipate, but see in the smiles of campers each day. I have learned my camp mom role is to be present, and ready to help, but the counselors do all the real work of a camper’s ‘mom’. I remember the life of a counselor is the world of their campers. Setting the tone of friendship and fun. Not only do I hear words of wisdom from counselors (and campers too), shared during unexpected moments, but also the caring and thoughtful voices that are most often just the right thing to say.

I’m so grateful that the counselors along with HUPS, and CAs know the campers and carry forward the traditions of Rockbrook. I also appreciate that my daughters and I get to experience the spirit and be part of the history during this one hundredth year of summertime at Rockbrook Camp for Girls.

—Ramblings from Cat, first time camp mom

Teen camper girls

Celebrating with Fireworks

Let’s start with the food. It’s really been fabulous this summer, and today’s meals stand out.

homemade dessert rockbrookie

Lunch was a chance to get creative as Rick and his crew provided an array of ingredients for everyone to make their own “breakfast sandwich.” Breakfast for Lunch! He had english muffins, with eggs and cheese, breakfast meats, avocado, lettuce, tomato, and an array of condiments. He served fresh local blackberries on the side. But for dinner, as part of our “centennial celebration,” Rick pulled out all the stops! He made fried chicken, mounds of mashed potatoes, gravy, fresh green beans, and homemade biscuits… 770 homemade, cut-by-hand, biscuits! What a meal! Then to top it off, let me introduce you to the dessert known around here as a “Rockbrookie.” Sydney, one of our bakers, invented these triple-layer bars: chocolate chip cookie on the bottom, a layer of Oreo cookie in the middle, and brownie on the top. One of a kind delicious!

Just about all day, and almost everyday, the looms in Curosty are in motion. Girls of all ages take turns sitting and working the warp and weft, using colorful yarns to weave swatches. Often, the girls keep these handmade pieces of cloth to use them as placemats or simple decorative pieces, but they can also be sewn into small pillows or bags.

camp counselors hiding in bushes

After dinner tonight, we held a counselor hunt. This is a very popular all-camp activity where the staff members do their best to hide somewhere in camp and the girls travel around in the their cabin groups searching. Being so wooded, Rockbrook has loads of great hiding spots. Many counselors dress all in black, and often cover themselves with a trash bag. One actually hid inside a trash bag, inside a trashcan! Others hid inside canoes, or covered themselves with leaves. The girls have a great time racing around the camp searching for these hidden staff members. Some were found right away, and others not at all. When we rang the bell to signal the “all clear,” all but a handful were found. Each counselor hiding had a key that they gave to the cabin group who found them. Then out of all the keys, only one opened a “treasure box” that contained a few small gifts for the cabin. The cabin groups took turns trying their keys to see if theirs was the one. The box also revealed that later tonight we would have a fireworks show!

When we show fireworks at camp, it’s a great time for the girls. They gather on the hill in their crazy creek chairs and look toward the sky above the lake. We launch from the lake, so when the colors burst in the sky, they are easily seen by the girls on the hill above. We play fun dance music, hand out glow sticks for everyone, and serve popsicles right before getting started. There’s nothing quite like fireworks to celebrate, and since it’s Rockbrook’s 100th birthday this year, this was perfect.

I’ll leave you with a short video clip of the show. You can just make out the singing and cheering over the sound of the explosions.

A Kayaking Trip

Today, we have a special post written by Sonya Korabelnikova, one of our whitewater instructors. It’s a fascinating glimpse into what out-of-camp adventure trips are like, and what the girls learn in addition to having fun and improving their kayaking skills. Enjoy!

Kid Kayaking trip

I knew we had a very big day ahead of us when I showed up at camp around 7:45am. Today we would be running section IX of the French Broad River, a whitewater kayaking trip that is a step more advanced. We always try to run the river and be back in time for dinner, and this trip is a long one, especially if we were hoping to squeeze in a stop at Dolly’s on the way back.

To my surprise the campers arrived ready, with all their gear, clothes, sunscreen, etc. It turns out Lula went to talk to everyone the night before to make sure they would be ready to go early. KK jumped on the trailer right away helping to tie the boats. She has perfected her truckers hitch, so while I still checked her knots, I really didn’t have to. She ties them very well. Everyone else helped too, loading the gear and boats into the van without me saying a word. By now they all know what to do and everyone finds the spot where they are the most helpful. We were able to leave camp by 9:06am, much earlier than I have expected. This was a pleasant surprise because last week it took more than twice that time.

camp girl kayaking

Arriving at the river, everyone was ready and excited to go. Riley, the youngest camper (she is only 11 and this would be only her 4th time on a whitewater river) needed some extra help carrying her boat and putting her skirt on. Before I got a chance to help, Kate and Willa were already helping her. Again, with everyone pitching in, we were able to get on the river in no time.

We arrived at a large eddy and decided to practice t-rescues and rolls. As we were working, one of the girls said she was afraid. When I asked her about that, she explained she was “afraid to fail.” I’ve noticed this as a recurring conversation this year— worrying about failing. So, instead of working on rolls, we took a moment and talked about how important it was to try, even when there is a chance of failure. We talked about how not trying is often worse than not succeeding, and how failing is often a part of learning because no one ever succeeds in everything all the time, especially when first starting out. Back at our roll practice, some of them failed but tried again. Some succeeded, but everyone looked happy to keep trying.

girls scouting whitewater rapid

Next up was Pillow Rock, the most difficult and largest rapid on the river. We got out of our boats and climbed up the rock to scout. Lula, KK and Willa were ready to move forward, seeing their line and having no fear. I smiled and told them to go. They climbed down the rock, got into their boats and charged one after another. Of course, they hit the perfect line.

Grape and Kate were nervous. They asked me if I thought they were ready for this rapid. I told them that I thought they were ready, but it was really up to them if they wanted to run it or not. They looked at each other, having a silent conversation. A few minutes later, there were cheers from everyone because they successfully ran the rapid!

Riley was the last one. She said to me, “I’m scared, but I really want to do it. Can I follow you?” “Sure,” I said, “we can go together.” We climbed down, she got in her boat and charged after me. After she took one confident stroke after another, I knew she would be fine. She made it to the bottom of the rapid and other girls offered her high fives and cheers.

french broad river kayaking

At the Swimmers Rapid, we had the girls ferry over to practice their skills. When one of them flipped and swam, half of the other girls charged over to help get her to shore. Soon these other campers were reassuring the camper, retrieving her gear, and getting her back in her boat. I felt that I didn’t need to add anything, since these girls knew how to properly handle this situation, both the rescue part and emotional part as well.

We got to the take out and had a few minutes for more roll practice and swimming. As some of them practiced, others gave their friends tips. I was surprised again. They seemed to remember everything we taught them and some of them were really good at explaining it to their friends.

Back in the bus, the girls were fiddling with their bracelets. They get a knotted cord bracelet for going kayaking, and a different bead for every achievement like paddling a specific river, or accomplishing a maneuver. The bracelets are made by tying a fishermen knot. Kate, who perfected the knot, was teaching everyone how to do it. We discovered that Riley was missing the bracelet and she was leaving the next day. But with no time to make her one, Grape took her bracelet off and said, “Here, you can have mine. I want you to have a bracelet before you leave.”

The conversation on the bus began to get louder. This is the first time on the trip that I heard Riley join in talking. At first, she may have felt like an outsider being the youngest camper on the trip. But now, she is clearly part of the team. All of them are.

Also on the bus ride home, I asked them to list their achievements of the day. They answered, “I punched the hole. I rolled. I caught the small eddy. I ran a big rapid.” Funny enough, none of them mentioned what I think are their biggest achievements: I helped and supported a friend. I made sure everyone was included. I was brave. I was strong. I took initiative when no one asked. I was a team member. With all this, it’s easy to understand why I am so proud of them.

As we sat outside of the Dolly’s eating our ice cream, the girls talked about how much they enjoyed the day and how much they want to come back to go kayaking again. I hope they will. I hope they will have more opportunities to enjoy this sport that will challenge them, force them to be a team member, take them out into nature, and will help them grow into the strong independent women we all want them to be.

kayaking camp girls

The Best Kind of Busy

Today we welcomed another group of excited, eager girls to Rockbrook as we opened our second July Mini session. It started around 8:30am as cars began pulling into the riding center driveway, making their way through our new drive-through check-in procedure. After quick stops to meet folks from the office, Brittany the riding director, camp director Sarah Carter, and our team of nurses, it was time to drive up into camp and meet even more people. A mob of smiling, cheering counselors waited at the top of the hill also eager to get started with camp. The energy of camp— friendly, supportive, accepting and silly —was bubbling up right away. These campers, and some of the counselors too, have been waiting for two years to experience this energetic fun. Finally, we can get started!

best summer camp friends

Getting started means setting up the bunks, making beds, and of course getting to know the others in your cabin. It means, right away, tackling challenges with the support of your peers rather than your parents. Starting the first day of camp means feeling a little nervous but also relieved to find so many nice people in your cabin group. The first day of camp includes learning that the hill is steep when walking from the gym to the Junior line. It means discovering that the food at camp is delicious and plentiful, as giant platters of homemade mac-n-cheese made their way to the tables for lunch. Since we often like to spend time swimming at camp, the first day also means demonstrating your swimming ability in our mountain stream-fed, highly “refreshing” lake, and receiving your own tag for the tag board. Most importantly, this first day of camp marks the beginning of a great adventure, one filled with nature, relationships with caring people, meaningful conversations, and daily new experiences.

summer camp buddy tag board

Swimming in the Rockbrook lake is one of the unique treats at camp. 100 years ago when the camp was founded, the lake was smaller, perhaps one quarter its current size. Like all of the lakes in this area, it’s manmade, and relies on an earthen dam for it to exist. It was expanded in 1925 by digging a deeper section and building a larger dam. Men dug by hand and used horses to drag the dirt out. The lake has six very large boulders and many large trees around its perimeter giving it the feeling of an ancient swimming hole hidden in the forest. It’s rumored that when viewed from above, the outline of the lake is the shape of our mascot – a cardinal! There’s a fun 50-ft waterslide on one end, a dock and diving board on the other. One portion is more shallow, perfect for swimming laps or just playing in the water while standing up. It’s approximately 14 feet deep in the center. Throughout the day during activity periods, plus during the two “free swim” periods before lunch and dinner, girls are splashing and playing in the water. The lake is a very popular place to be at camp!

We’re very happy to have these new friends join the full session girls already at camp. With a full house again, we’ll have every activity in motion tomorrow, all of us happily getting busy. Since it’s camp, that’s the best kind of busy.

camp girls dressed in traditional uniform

Action-Packed Celebration

When it’s the 4th of July at camp, we can’t have an ordinary day. There’s always a bit of celebration going on at camp since we’re gathering together and enjoying ourselves just by being here, but when there’s a clear holiday happening too, we’re all in!

4th of July horses in camp line
water cup over head relay
Camp Marble foot game

We started the day with horses riding up and down the cabin lines, a long July 4th tradition at Rockbrook. All eleven of our equestrian staff rode a horse, and while they rode, they woke up the campers by yelling, “The British are coming! Wake up! Wake up!” Unlike Paul Revere, our horses were highly decorated with red, white and blue ribbons, bows, paint, leg wraps, blankets, and even jaunty hat. You can imagine the surprise of the campers to hear hoofbeats outside their cabin along with the warnings to wake up.

The girls next came out on the hill for the Hi-Ups to raise the American flag along with our white Rockbrook flag underneath. We all recited the Pledge of Allegiance and sang “America the Beautiful,” as the sun began to clear off the morning fog.

The Middlers presented a chapel program on the theme of “Courage,” focusing on different examples during camp when a little bravery can make a big difference… helping remove a spider from a cabin by catching it in a cup, taking your first ride down the 50-ft water slide at the lake, even trying a new food like stuffed grape leaves or falafel. Sarah read a book by Bernard Waber entitled Courage. Like all the chapel programs at camp, this was a brief time to think about an idea that can guide us all as we face the challenges of being at camp, not religious per se, but still something that recognizes a fundamental quality of being human.

Grilled Chicken caesar salads, potato chips and fresh blackberries made our excellent lunch. During rest hour the girls prepared for our all-camp afternoon event by dressing up in their best red, white and blue— shirts and shorts with American flags, headbands, sunglasses, and hats. These girls were ready to go all out! A few counselors pulled out tempura paint to add colors to their arms, legs and faces too!

We divided the camp into 4 large groups, and created a rotation where each group would travel to a different part of camp to play a series of games. With music playing at several of the locations, we were at the lake, on the hill, the archery field, and by the creek.

balloon tossing game
cheese balls on the head game
greased watermelon in the lake

A lot of the games involved water. The girls tossed water balloons back and forth trying not to pop them. Toss, step back and toss again, farther and farther until someone got wet.

They used sponges soaked in water to fill an empty bucket, but they had to pass the dripping sponge hand-to-hand to every cabin mate. And the sponge had to be passed over their heads and through their legs.

A similar race involved filling a bucket with water from a leaking cup, also passed overhead from person to person.

One game had girls racing to find marbles in a pool of water, only using their feet! Picking up a marble with your toes is surprisingly difficult!

At the lake, the girls swam with greased watermelons trying to be the first cabin to move the melon across a distance a few times. They did tricks off the diving board and gathered pingpong balls from another section of the lake.

One of the funniest challenges combined shaving cream and cheese balls (?)! One team member squirted shaving cream on her head (shower cap optional) and the other stood at a distance tossing cheese balls hoping to stick them in the shaving cream. The team with the most balls stuck “won.” I think the record was 13. Silly but loads of fun.

Dinner was a classic Independence Day picnic: barbecue sliders (with a tempeh option), corn on the cob, homemade vinegar coleslaw, tater tots and watermelon, with cans of Cheerwine chilling in the creek. For dessert, the bakers impressed us all again by serving a brownie cheesecake bar with red, white and blue icing. Like all the desserts at camp, this homemade treat was a huge hit.

After dinner, a few brave counselors entertained everyone by demonstrating their ability to eat a pie (“pie eating demos”?). Without using their hands, and as fast as possible, each person bent over a full-size pie, digging in face-first. The entire camp cheered them on, the loudest being the girls from those counselors’ cabins. In the end, Cary noshed here apple pie most completely and “won” the contest.

The highlight of the evening was the fireworks show we launched from the lake. With fun dance music pumping across the hill, and the girls dancing about with flashlights and glow sticks, colorful explosions filled the night sky. It was quite an elaborate show lasting about 30 minutes, turning the hill into an amazing nighttime dance party of “oohs” and “ahhs.”

What an action-packed celebration! A community of friends playing, swimming and singing… cheese balls and pingpong balls… leaking cups and dripping sponges… pies and pyrotechnics. Good food and good feelings. All part of a great day at camp.

Girl Camp Friends

The Deepest Root

Don’t be surprised if your household acquires a piece of handwoven fabric once camp is over. The girls here at camp are busily using different techniques to weave all sorts of cord and thread into complex, colorful patterns.

campers macrame project

You may be thinking of weaving on a loom, and there is a lot of that happening in the Curosty activity cabin. That’s one of the historic log cabins at Rockbrook that predate the founding of the camp. The wide, peddle-operated floor looms, and the smaller tabletop versions, are in constant motion, the shuttle gliding back and forth between the warp threads. A great example of hand weaving is also catching on this summer: macramé. This is another ancient technique for making a textile by tying knots. Using different cords and string, square knots and hitches combine to make complex decorative patterns. Macramé was a popular hobby in the 1970s, and now here at camp girls are bringing it back, making wall hangings and smaller keychains. Similar to making a friendship bracelet, these macramé projects are fun for the girls as each knot they add reveals a unique growing pattern.

The Alpine Tower is our challenge climbing structure located in the woods behind the gym. It’s a system of logs, cables and ropes that allows multiple girls to climb at the same time. It’s triangular shape offer three sides of different climbing elements: swinging logs, a cargo net, an overhanging wall, for example. Climbing holds are bolted to the poles and girls use the ropes, cables and holds to climb 50 feet up to the platform at the top.

Climbing the tower takes not only strength, flexibility and a sense of balance; it takes nerve. With each step up, standing on small holds or narrow poles, the feeling of being high in air increases, and so does your worry about possibly slipping and falling. Even though you know there is a really strong rope that will hold you up, it’s still pretty scary to be that high up in the air. It takes determination and some confidence to push through the fear, and focus on the challenge of finding the next hold higher up. The girls today did great, most making it all the way to the top, and everyone feeling good about overcoming the challenges of the activity.

summer camp dance for girls

Our evening program tonight got everyone dressed up and dancing because it was an all-girls dance party with a “prom” theme. Actually it was three dance parties, since each line (age group) held its own version in a different location. The costumes ranged from simple dresses to tie-dye t-shirts, and included a few hats, necklaces of beads, and tutus. The juniors were excited to try out a few line dances in the dining hall, while the middlers took over the hillside lodge. Since the seniors are the largest group they jumped and danced in the gym. No boys in sight, these girls know how to have a good time being silly, singing and twirling with each other. Of course, they were more than happy to pause for a quick “prom photo.” Be sure to check the photo gallery to see how everyone was dressed.

These dances proved once again that it doesn’t take much for your girls to enjoy themselves at camp. Music, costumes, a few decorations and some snacks are the outward ingredients, but I think the most important component is the complete feeling of ease the girls feel toward each other. They’re not afraid to cast off their “social armor” because kindness is the deepest root of their friendships at camp. They’re not holding back, worried about what someone might think or say that might hurt their feelings. They know that being awkward is totally OK, even cool around here. It doesn’t matter how well you can sing or dance, because at camp being fully into the moment is clearly most important. There it is again— that magical power of camp to make things more fun by building upon the great relationships we have with everyone in the community. More fun, more rewarding, more meaningful, more lasting and important… but don’t get me started!

kid training in archery