Immersed in the Unfamiliar

Glancing through our online photo gallery today, you may have noticed that the girls are all wearing long sleeves. It might be a t-shirt or a sweatshirt, or likely a Rockbrook fleece, but all morning long we needed to bundle up a bit because it didn’t feel much like summer around here. It was more like the fall with the low temperature of 54 degrees when we woke up at 8am this morning. While odd for us in late July, this kind of cool, low humidity weather makes everything sparkle at camp. Waking up under warm covers in our open-air cabins, adding a layer of fleece while clicking the floor loom in Curosty, and biting into the fresh mint chocolate chip muffin, all felt especially good this morning. Up above was the deepest blue sky, not a single cloud anywhere, and the sun felt instantly warm when you stepped out of the shade, even as it warmed to about 75 degrees in the afternoon. Summer in the mountains can bring the most surprising and wonderful weather.

Yesterday, Bentley wrote about how camp has helped her daughters (and herself) gain social confidence when meeting new people or encountering unfamiliar social settings. She saw attending a sleepaway summer camp a perfect setting to develop that skill because, after all, it’s inevitable you’ll be doing unfamiliar things and meeting new people at camp— the girls in your cabin, in your wheel-thrown ceramics class, or in your whitewater raft on the Nantahala River. Everyday, there’s someone new to meet and something new to do and experience. (“Did you try that pineapple salsa at lunch today?”) From this angle, camp life means immersing kids in the unfamiliar— experiencing first-hand strange food like homemade ginger coleslaw, odd weather like this morning, quirky people like that counselor from out west, challenging activities like aiming a real gun, alien creatures like those HUGE wolf spiders occasionally found in the shower, and so forth. While camp is providing girls new experiences and offering a range of fun activities to try, it’s more importantly pushing them beyond what they know, confronting them with the exotic. Camp life happily leaps right out of every “comfort zone,” and in this way, is intentionally un-comfortable.

Riflery Ready Girl at Camp

And that’s a good thing! Obviously, we don’t want camp to imitate the comforts of home. Many of the benefits of camp life spring from those differences— unplugging from technology, being active outdoors, and managing everyday decisions, for example. Personal growth, learning of the most profound kind, requires a little shaking up and a surprise now and then. We want our kids to have these novel experiences because they are unfamiliar and because they challenge them to grow more competent. For this reason it would be a mistake to insist we make everything “easy” at camp, for example to make sure the lake isn’t too cold or that she already know everyone in her cabin. As parents, we often spend our time helping our children be comfortable, keeping them happy, and providing everything we can to smooth their path, but that’s the paradox of camp. It’s both uncomfortable and fun. It makes our girls happy while safely challenging them. Camp is as joyful as it is unfamiliar.

What makes this paradox possible at Rockbrook is our camp culture. It’s our emphasis on community, and the values that support it like kindness, caring and generosity. We all know that everyone here (counselors and campers alike) will be quick to support our efforts and is more inclined to cooperate than compete. Enthusiasm and encouragement bubble up everywhere at Rockbrook strengthening our courage to let our true selves blossom. We celebrate silliness, creativity, and costumes! We love singing, dancing, playing, and doing almost everything together. In this kind of community, what’s unfamiliar becomes part of the fun, and what’s at first a challenge becomes another opportunity to experience something new regardless of the outcome. What makes camp “fun” is another whole topic to consider, but I think the Rockbrook camp community is a big part of it.

Zoo Costume Girls

For about half of the camp, almost all of the Middlers and Seniors, today included a whitewater rafting trip down the Nantahala River. We ran 2 large trips, using our own equipment and guides: one in the morning and a second in the afternoon. Perfect sunny weather added to the excitement of rapids like “Delbar’s Rock,” “Whirlpool,” “The Bump,” and of course the “Nantahala Falls.”  These are high-pitched trips, partly from the rapids but equally from the icy cold water splashing about. It was a great afternoon of whitewater adventure.

When we all arrived back at camp, a special jungle/animal themed dinner called “A Night at the Zoo” was ready to begin. We had just enough time to race back to the cabin to throw together an animal costume. Maybe that meant simply wearing a squid hat, or painting a few whiskers on your cheeks, but there was also a giraffe and several tigers in the dining hall too.  Jungle-themed decorations and posters on the walls helped set the mood, while the girls had a great time singing animal songs (e.g., “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”) and dancing to a few related pop songs (like “Roar” for example). We gobbled up pizza and salad, and finished with chocolate chip cookie dough for dessert, making the whole dinner a special event.

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