A Stroll Around Camp

Just before lunch, I wandered around camp just to see what was happening.  I started at the barn, where I encountered five excited equestriennes eager to show me how they had planned out matching their outfits today with their horses’ ear bonnets. Our riding staff noted their excitement for this activity and, after their riding lesson, had helped to make it happen. The campers were very much wanting to have their photo taken of them with their favorite horses.  One of the girls told me that she was also getting ready to go on the optional overnight backpacking trip.  “I was so excited last night about the plan to dress to match our horses and then to go on the backpacking trip that I just couldn’t sleep!” she told me.

As I continued on my way, I encountered a pottery class in action.  Several of the campers had asked to learn how to throw a pot on the wheel.  I enjoyed seeing the interest of the other campers, mesmerized in watching these clay vessels come to life on the wheels, as our pottery instructors taught them some critical skills to keep the clay centered and wet in order to carefully maneuver it into the desired shape.

camp ukelele player

On the hill, I spotted a solitary camper, deep in concentration as she worked to learn a few chords on the ukulele.  She had taken a few lessons with Maddie and was choosing to practice on her own, perhaps in anticipation of accompanying some friends later. I think there’s a group ukulele concert in the works for later in the week.

And perhaps my favorite moment came as I was about to cross the stream by Curosty.  Several Juniors and Middlers were playing there and one of them asked me if I wanted to go to the restaurant.  Not exactly sure what that meant, I of course said “yes.”  They took my hand and led me just past the outer layer of rhododendron into a hidden clearing with two massive tree stumps.  Apparently the name of the restaurant is either going to be “tween the trunks” or “the branches,” both of which I thought were excellent names. They sat me down on one stump and proceeded to bring me a “surprise drink, taco, salad, falafel, and a ‘Rockbrooky’ for dessert,” all made of objects from nature: flowers, leaves, grass, stones, and mud.

What I loved about each of these moments was how they were camper-driven.  These girls were given the space and time to pursue things that interested them.  Some were creative activities, some were sporty, and others were free play in nature, but they all had elements where the campers used their imaginations, curiosity, and enthusiasm to make their camp experience unique to them. With friends by their sides, they leaned in and took action themselves.  It was a sweet reminder of how we should all move through the world in this way – pursuing our varied interests, inviting others in to share the moment.  A wonderful lesson for all of us and a refreshing stroll around camp.

summer camp kayaking girl duo

A Multitude of Moments

Every session, I visit each age group’s lodge during a morning assembly to chat with the campers about what makes Rockbrook different from “the real world.”  Campers right away pipe up that people are kind, everyone is included, and that camp events are a lot of fun.  But when we delve deeper, we talk about how to ensure that people are kind, how it can be hard to be nice to people you live with after three weeks, what to do when we make mistakes, and how important it is to do the right thing, even if it is hard, and even if nobody is watching.

I’m always encouraged at the end of these visits, by the sincerity of the answers. And I love it when I see moments of these chats in action.  Like tonight in the dining hall, when I spotted a senior camper helping our youngest junior refill her serving bowl. Or the middler that I spotted cleaning up cups on the hill after a picnic yesterday.  Or the CA camper who walked a younger camper all the way back to the barn this morning because she forgot to leave her boots there. Each day at Rockbrook, there are a multitude of moments for campers to practice and to develop being a kind and caring person.

The program at Rockbrook is designed to give campers increasing independence. As they grow older, so do their responsibilities around camp, with each step helping the camp run smoothly.  Our leadership program for our 15-, 16-, and 17-year-old campers was developed many years ago, and it is still incredibly effective.  These oldest campers see the direct result of their efforts in the experience of the younger campers, from the silly campfire the Hi-Ups led on Monday night to the sparkling plates the CITs cleaned tonight to be ready for tomorrow’s breakfast.

A former Rockbrook counselor put it this way:

I like to think that we become our best selves at Rockbrook because the people around us believe that we can be our best selves.

One of my favorite things about Rockbrook is how much trust it places in the people who live here. We trust our juniors to get to activities on time, create fabulous skits each night, and even refill food from the kitchen. We trust our middlers to be kind to each other, be role models for the juniors, and to embrace the crazy adventures of camp. We trust the seniors to be real leaders, our CAs to plan an amazing banquet, and our HUPs to make sure we all wake up on time.

From ages six to sixteen, we believe in each other to laugh often, love kindly, and be there for one another. It’s no wonder we find it easier to be our best selves — when two hundred people believe that you can do it, we find ourselves proving them right.

We know the campers can do so much, and we depend on all of them to make each day run smoothly, to help take care of camp and each other. And they do!

summer camp teenage friends

Carrier Pigeon Writing

These last few days of camp are so relaxed and sweet.  The campers who are here now are ones who have really settled into the rhythm of camp life, feeling more and more at home everyday.  Homesickness has mostly been resolved, and friendships are deepening with each shared activity, surprise, and silly skit.  The campers know that their days here in the heart of a wooded mountain are coming to a close soon and they are clearly savoring these last moments. They are looking forward to seeing family again soon, but many are sad to say goodbye to each other.

Last night, the campers got a chance to participate in one of Rockbrook’s oldest traditions: writing for the Carrier Pigeon.  This is the name for the yearbook that is compiled and mailed to campers in the winter, and which serves as a warm reminder of carefree summer camp days.  It is named for the founder of Rockbrook, Nancy Carrier, and it was started when Rockbrook was just one week old.  In doing research for the book that several alumnae and I wrote last year about the history of Rockbrook, I was able to locate nearly all of the Carrier Pigeons from camp’s 101 year history.  These Carrier Pigeons are a treasure trove of stories, poems, jokes, drawings, and photographs that are in turn touching tributes, impressive feats of adventure, and hilarious tales of Rockbrook life throughout the years.

After dinner last night, we invited the campers to add their contributions to this summer’s Carrier Pigeon.  We thought you would enjoy a few samples of their work to get a sense of the fun and friendship that the campers are experiencing on a daily basis:

I love rockbrook drawing

“This year at Rockbrook was my first year. I’ve had a great time and made so many friends and so many memories. But I think I will write about my rafting experience. My cabin, like all, was offered the opportunity to go whitewater rafting. Most of us went and had a great time. If you’ve been whitewater rafting before, you might know that you can sit on the front of the boat and “ride the bull.” I went to ride the bull but it was super slippery so I fell into the ice-cold water. My friends pulled me up by my life jacket. Determined ride the bull, I tried again. I also slipped again and fell into the water again. Our instructor pulled me out of the water with one hand and dropped me into the raft. I was completely numb but laughing. I didn’t try to do it again.”

“Do you remember zipping through the camp, or racing to the lake? Who wouldn’t, when the memories made at RBC will last forever. Do you remember your first day and it already feeling like you have been here for weeks? Do you remember tying your friendship knots or braiding you cabin mate’s hair? Do you remember feeling welcome the second you drove up the hill? Do you remember passing notes during rest hour or making flashlight languages? I bet you remember all these things forever, because at Rockbrook, some of the smallest things take up the most room in our hearts.”

Today, a special group of campers, the CAs (the rising 10th graders) are currently hard at work on setting up the Banquet for the rest of camp.  They have draped sheets all around the dining hall and the rest of camp is eating today’s breakfast and lunch picnic-style, on the hill.  As you probably know, the theme of Banquet is a well-kept secret, and these CA girls have been spending all of their free time working on elaborately-painted decorations, practicing creative skits, creating a clever menu, and generally giving of their own time to create a magical evening for the younger girls.  While we cannot yet share the theme for this session’s banquet, it is one that is sure to be a fun and memorable one!

Also, a few parents have asked us about the photo gallery and wondering about yesterday.  We had a photographer that had a scheduling conflict, but we have lots of photos of today on the way!  Thanks for your patience and keep an eye on the gallery to figure out tonight’s Banquet theme!

Comfortable camp girls

It’s the Season of Hygge

Thanksgiving is so hygge! Wait, what? What in the world is hygge, and how do I even pronounce it? To start with, it is a Danish word, and it is pronounced “hoo-gah.” Denmark has been getting a lot of attention lately, because the people in this country are known to have a very high level of personal satisfaction, informally known as the “happiest people in the world.” In a country where there is so little sunlight in the winter and the weather is usually cold and overcast, how can they be so happy? Some Danes claim it is because of their cultural concept of “hygge,” or “consciously cozy.” This is an important value in their culture, to make things as cozy as possible. And there are certain ingredients that help create a cozy atmosphere. As I was reading The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking, it made me so excited about the upcoming holiday of Thanksgiving, because it is a time when we all slow down enough to savor these cozy elements. And then I realized that the culture of Rockbrook really aligns with the concepts of hygge as well. No wonder I like the book so much!

Here are the essential ingredients to help create ‘hygge,’ according to Meik Wiking:

Camp Candlelight

1. Atmosphere: Turn down the lights, burn lots of candles and light the fire. From learning to build a campfire in WHOA to our spirit fire candles, we naturally create atmosphere often at Rockbrook. At your Thanksgiving table, add some candles and soft music.

2. Presence: Shut down the screens. Be here now. We all know how easy it is to be distracted by screens. Rockbrook girls tell me all the time what a relief it is to be without their phones at camp. Remind yourselves and your family to power down on Thanksgiving.

3. Pleasure: Take the time to really taste your food. Mmmm. Muffins. Turkey. Rockbrook girls run to the dining hall when the muffin break bell rings. Standing in the late morning sunshine as the fog is lifting and munching down on a pumpkin chocolate chip muffin is the best. You will surely have some wonderful dishes at your Thanksgiving table. Really savor them.

4. Equality: “We” over “me.” The community is stronger than just one individual. Camp is all about the amazing people we get to meet from all over the world. Your family is amazing too – slow down and have some complete conversations with them. Ask them unexpected questions and really listen to the answers.

5. Gratitude: Look around. Take it in. You are very lucky. There is so much activity at camp for girls that we build in times to reflect upon all of the wonderful parts of it. At the end of the day, campers and counselors talk about their “rose, bud, thorn” moments. Try asking those around your Thanksgiving table what they are grateful for before they dig into the food. (rose = the best part of your day, thorn = the most challenging part of your day, bud = what you are looking forward to the most)

6. Harmony: It’s not a competition. We already like you. There’s no need to brag about your achievements. Isn’t it the best to feel part of the gang, the big Rockbrook family? You don’t have to pretend to be different from how you really are. Your quirks are celebrated. Let your real family know how much you like them too.

Camp Togetherness

7. Comfort: Get comfy. Take a break. It’s OK to relax. Camp girls for sure know how to do this, as I see them lounging on the hill in their crazy creek chairs, wearing their footie pajamas, and braiding each other’s hair. Find cozy nooks in your home too and invite your Thanksgiving people to join you.

8. Truce: No drama. Let’s discuss politics another day. Sometimes it is a relief to step into the child’s world that is camp. Yes, there is a lot going on in the world that can be stressful, but we choose to put that aside for our camp session. Give yourself a break from that on Thanksgiving too!

9. Togetherness: Build relationships and shared experiences. Trying new things brings people together. Just as a white-water rafting adventure can bond a cabin group, doing something new as a family can build connections. Maybe a fun outdoor game to get moving on Turkey Day would provide exercise plus a little shared fun.

10. Shelter: This is your tribe. This is a place of peace and security. During the summer, we often get mountain gullywasher rainstorms. Those are the best times to get cozy in the cabin with our cabin mates, telling funny stories. Thanksgiving is a wonderful time when your tribe, your family comes together and enjoys that shelter of our relationships with each other.

From our Rockbrook family to yours, we hope you have warm, wonderful hygge Thanksgiving!

Camp Belonging

An Attitude of Gratitude

Sundays at Rockbrook provide us with a moment to catch our breath. After a very full week of riding horses, weaving on Inkle looms, taking the polar plunge, zipping across camp, and hitting tetherballs, it is welcome (and necessary!) to take a little break. 

girls singing song camp

On Sundays we sleep in a little later and enjoy breakfast in our pajamas.  Afterwards we take some time to clean our cabins, put on our uniforms, and get ready for flag-raising and chapel.  For many girls, these ceremonies are so special because they are a different time at camp, a little quieter, a little more serious.  The silent walk to chapel provides a chance for girls to hear the sounds at camp that are often overwhelmed by happy chatter, shrieks, and singing.  Girls start to notice the birdsong, feel the sun’s rays, maybe even get a sprinkle of rain on them.  After arriving at the rustic clearing in the woods that was selected by campers nearly 100 years ago, girls learn the theme for chapel that week.  Our chapel services are not religious services, but rather quiet, thought-provoking times at camp.  The girls participate by choice, and they may lead songs, read poems, and share thoughts that have to do with the weekly theme.

Gratitude program at camp

This week, our theme was “Gratitude.” Girls quickly caught on to the theme by expressing how lucky they felt to have the opportunity to spend time in this beautiful setting, living closely with so many fun and interesting people.  Many girls recognized that coming to camp has been a gift for them from another person. We read the book “The Secret of Saying Thanks” by Douglas Wood together.  The book helped draw attention to the many simple gifts around us all of the time at camp – from the beauty of flowers, the shade of trees, the silence of mountains, the life of waters.  In closing, the book teaches that a grateful heart is a happy one.  The campers really embraced the teachings of this book.  After chapel one of our campers wrote her thoughts about Rockbrook:

I stumbled upon it by chance; this place that my great-aunt, grandmother, and aunt all loved before me.

And now, there is no sound that I love more than the bell’s peal mingling with laughter,

No sight I love more than a girl tying the friendship knot on a first-year camper’s tie,

No taste I love more than fresh donuts on Sunday morning, broken and shared between friends,

No smell I love more than the last wisps of smoke from a spirit fire candle,

And no feeling I love more than the warmth of a hug that I know means farewell,

But not goodbye.

We still have a few more days before our farewells, and we are grateful for all of these fun and happy moments together.

Reading in chapel program