The Fun is Simple

Sometimes what it takes to have fun is simple. That’s especially true at camp where you’re surrounded by dozens of people you consider friends, some super close friends. Mix in a feeling of adventure and suddenly we have exciting fun, scream-inducing excitement.

north carolina sliding rock
nc sliding rock fun
girls sliding rock scream

A good example of this happened tonight when we took all the remaining Middlers and Seniors to Sliding Rock. If you haven’t heard of it, Sliding Rock is a natural water slide formed by Looking Glass Creek as it tumbles about 60 feet over a slope of granite. Over millennia the water has worn the rock smooth so that it’s possible to sit in the water at the top and slide along until plunging into a pool at the bottom.

Not only possible, it’s practical too. Hundreds of people, in fact, make the slide everyday. We arrived tonight past when it had officially closed to the public. This is our routine, and our preference. We can provide our own lifeguards, counselors to help the campers settle into the water at the top of the rock, and set a good “Rockbrook Vibe” when we have the place to ourselves.

That means lots of cheering and the occasional RBC line song sung. As girls wait for their turn to slide, they have a perfect view of others sliding, so there’s plenty of laughing and shouts of encouragement too. You can imagine, the whole scene is loud: crashing waterfall, screaming sliders, and cheering spectators.

The feeling of adventure is clear as soon as the girls sit down in the water at the top of the rock and feel it splashing on their backs. It looks tall from up there! Of course, the temperature of the water is “refreshing” too. That’s when eyes widen and mouths open to let out wild screams. The water pushes, and soon they are accelerating down the rock heading to the splash landing below. We encourage the girls to slide in pairs, adding to the fun. As they twist, spin and sometimes topple down the rock for several seconds, they scream even more, squint, and hold their noses at the last second. It’s so thrilling, and so much fun, they are quick to zip around and slide again. Most girls want to slide more than one time, with 2 or 3 being about right.

This is good simple fun. It’s classic camp fun too. We take a bunch of girls who know each other really well— they’re friends in the best sense of the word —and let them experience a little daring adventure together. The encouragement and the support of the group kicks in and soon we have girls feeling thrilled. The natural features of Sliding Rock, and a positive group is all it takes to create a memorable fun experience. Pretty cool!

On the drive out of the Forest, we took it one step further and stopped at Dolly’s Dairy bar so everyone could enjoy a cup or cone of their favorite flavor of ice cream. Having a Dolly’s treat is a big deal at camp, so we make sure every camper has a chance to experience it. They have “the best ice cream in the world,” many girls have assured to me. Long ago Dolly’s created special “camp flavors” by contracting special blends and naming them after many of the local camps. “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion” is a unique chocolate flavor with fudge and small peanut butter cups. There’s a flavor based on s’mores, one reminiscent of key lime pie, and another that tastes like strawberry cheesecake. All of them are delicious. This is why part of the fun of going to Dolly’s is deciding which flavor to try. It’s also why so many families plan a trip to Dolly’s on closing day. You should plan on it too!

three teenagers at dollys

The Three Rules of Pranking

A few 9th graders grabbed me the other day to ask me a question. They had something on their mind and had heard that I needed to “approve” it. They were plotting a prank, specifically a prank on the 10th grade Hi-Up campers. They wanted to know if their idea for this prank would be “allowed.”

girl hiding behind a fern
pre-teen rifle shooting girl
young girl displaying her painting

Over the years, we’ve identified a few principles I have now come to call, “The Three Rules of Pranking.” Essentially, pranks are allowed if all three of these rules are true. So when these campers asked me, “Is pranking allowed at Rockbrook?” They were surprised to hear me say, “Yes, as long as you follow the three rules of pranking.”

So what are these pranking rules?

  1. The prank must be in the spirit of Rockbrook. That is to say, it must not be mean, insulting, or intended to ridicule or shame any person or group. Pranks should be funny, but not at the expense of anyone’s feelings.
  2. The prank must be something that can be undone; it cannot cause permanent damage. In other words, a prank cannot break anything, or ruin anyone’s property.
  3. The prankster or pranksters must be willing to help undo the prank if asked to do so. This can include cleaning.

 

That’s it! These are pretty simple rules, and when I explain them to campers, they immediately understand them. These particular 9th graders nodded their heads and said, “that makes sense.” It’s easy for them to imagine how unpleasant it would be to be pranked in a way that broke any of these rules. Nobody wants to be singled out and laughed at. Nobody wants their stuff messed up, and nobody wants to be stuck cleaning up something they didn’t cause.

The girls appreciate these rules too because instead of a long list of prohibited behaviors, the rules allow a great deal of creative freedom. When discussing the rules, you can see it on their faces. These wannabe pranksters are thinking of examples and modifying their ideas according to the rules. It seems like the girls appreciate that Rockbrook trusts them to adhere to the rules, and they gladly accept the responsibility for doing that.

Often, the girls still want me to “approve” their pranking ideas. They ask, “Would it be OK if we….?” And I often dodge that sort of question because I want them to be responsible for what they decide to do. I want them to think about whether their prank will follow the rules. They shouldn’t need me to figure that out. That’s how I answer. I ask them, “does you prank follow the three rules? If yes, then it’s fine.”

So what sort of pranks happen at Rockbrook? I hesitate to say much about this, not wanting to plant any ideas in the minds of a budding prankster out there. One classic example, however, comes to mind: moving a cabin’s dining hall table and chairs to another part of camp, and leaving a “ransom note” about where to find it. On multiple occasions in years past, groups of girls have eaten their breakfast sitting cross-legged on the floor of the dining hall because their table has vanished, only to be found later at lakefront, in the gym, or down at the landsports field. This kind of prank takes a lot of muscle to pull off, but is always an impressive feat. I hope you can see how it clearly abides by the RBC pranking rules.

Today was a rafting day. We again took a double trip down the Nantahala River, giving the remaining Middlers and Seniors their chance to experience the chilly thrill of whitewater. We were a bit worried about the weather as a cold front was moving through, but both trips ended up dodging the rain and having great conditions. Be sure to take a look at the photo gallery because there’s an entire album of shots from the trips. You’ll be able to see how much fun the girls had bouncing around in the boats, the delightfully silly socializing that went on, and the wide-eyed look of adventure on their faces as they blasted through the final rapid. Here are a couple of examples. Click each photo to see it enlarged.

If camp is about trying new things, being together as a community of friends, and developing a more confident sense of self, then these girls are completely on track. Pranks or no pranks, they are having a great time at camp.

Great summer camp pals

Tuning Their Awareness

When Nancy Carrier founded Rockbrook 100 years ago, I wonder if she realized just how extraordinary the setting of the camp is. Her father had chosen the property for their family estate 25 years earlier after being attracted to its large rock faces, hills, running creeks, proximity to the French Broad river, and rich valley farmland. It included several hundred acres of forest surrounding the main house to the north, south and east up to the ridge line. When Nancy decided to build Rockbrook, she hired a local engineer and worked to arrange the camp buildings to fit the natural contours of the land. She used locally quarried rock and timber cut from the camp property to build the many buildings, adding to the feeling that Rockbrook was a natural part of these hills, almost as if it had sprung up organically and had always been there. She preserved and incorporated the natural beauty of the land, making it an integral experience for everyone who spends time at camp. Today, we all benefit from being close to its strong trees, its cool running waters, ancient boulders, and views of the distant mountains.

teen camp friends

Today I explored a remote section of the camp property with two different groups of Seniors. We went on a hunt for the elusive “Kilroy’s cabin.” This is an old, simple wooden structure, now dilapidated, where legend says a hermit character named Kilroy once lived. There’s a tragic story linked to Kilroy that involves love and loss, and a beautiful woman with red hair and light colored eyes. The cabin is said to be hidden and difficult to find unless the group searching for it includes a red-headed girl. There’s no trail that leads directly to the cabin, so groups hiking to it must bushwhack through the woods with hopes of finding it.

Hiking to the cabin is challenging. It’s mostly uphill with some parts being very steep. It requires ducking and weaving through thick bushes, sometimes literally crawling on hands and knees. There are muddy sections and briar patches to avoid, slippery slopes and small creeks to cross. All of this makes for slow going. It inevitably means getting dirty, sweating enough to soak through your t-shirt, and pulling twigs from your hair along the way. But it also means getting very close to the forest, crouching down low enough to notice more, touching the nearby trees, and encountering mushrooms, snails, spiders and other insects. Today we came upon two species of snakes, found several feathers, and stood at the base of a waterfall. The hike lasted two and half hours.

teen girl friends

In many ways, this experience is fairly typical at camp. I had a group of girls cheerfully engaged with the natural world around them, chatting, singing and laughing together as they exercised all their senses. These were teenage girls paying attention to each other, sharing stories as we “hiked,” embracing this challenging experience without a shred of complaining or whining. They were cooperating and communicating with the greatest of ease. They were bright and happy under these difficult conditions, whether accidentally brushing into thorns or sliding down a steep bank of leaves. Over and over again, I heard how the girls were having a great time. “I love this kind of stuff! Let’s do it again sometime soon,” one girl exclaimed to me.

Does this sound like the teenage girls you know? Do you regularly see this kind of enthusiasm, social confidence, curiosity and positive attitudes? Are the teenagers you know game to do things, real world things like this? I would bet not. I have a hunch that these girls are different when they’re at camp, happier yes, but also more outgoing. I also believe that for the most part they are less stressed and anxious at camp. There are things about camp life— things it uniquely offers, but also things it profoundly lacks —that have this real effect on teenagers, on their immediate health and happiness, and longterm personal success.

teen dance class

If you’ve been following my posts recently, you can probably guess one side of this. I’ve been claiming that camp is uniquely situated to add certain experiences to a teenager’s life, for example, to feel the support of a caring, noncompetitive community, or the joy of regular free time to create, imagine, and play. Camp provides that rare feeling of belonging and acceptance. It tunes your awareness of others. It’s built upon experientially rich, real-world interactions and meaningful relationships. It brings out the best in these girls as it brings them together. This is what camp adds.

The other side of this— what is crucially missing from camp life —came to mind after reading this opinion piece by psychologists Jonathan Haidt and Jean M. Twenge. I’ve written about their research in the past, making different points about self confidence and handling adversity, but this new article points at the same culprit: the smartphone. Once again we learn how “smartphones in general and social media in particular” are correlated with sharp increases in teenage loneliness, depression and anxiety. Their new research shows that this is a worldwide phenomenon affecting children everywhere. They ask, “Do individual teens who consume a lot of social media have worse health outcomes than individual teens who consume little?” And they answer directly; “the answer is yes, particularly for girls.”

There are no smartphones and no social media at camp. Instead your girls are making real connections. They’re looking around, engaging with the world around them, not looking down, scrolling mindlessly through some idealized version of reality. At camp they’re actively, not passively entertained. They’re making true friends, not superficial Instagram “followers,” or vain Snapchat “streaks.”

The girls here at Rockbrook know this too. They know camp life is contrary to what they experience on their phones. Oddly, they love camp, and actually love not dealing with their phones while here, but every one of them will likely return to their social media habits when they get back home (or even the instant they get in the car on closing day! …Here’s an idea. Leave her phone at home! You’ll be able to enjoy her camp personality a bit, and hear some stories before she take steps back into that virtual world again.). The allure of this technology is too powerful. It’s tied to too many aspects of modern life. Haidt and Twenge advocate for creating the conditions where kids learn to socialize in the real world, for example by banning phones in schools and delaying when young children begin using social media.

Well, your girls already have those very conditions; they have them at camp. On a daily basis they are counteracting the negative effects of social media. In the long run, I hope your girls can draw upon their camp experience to recognize when their smartphone use is diminishing their real world engagement. If so, I think that self awareness will benefit their relationships and longterm happiness.

camp teenager hangout

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

3nd Session Video Glimpse

Amazing videographer Robbie Francis returned to camp this week to film. Robbie’s been helping us for years capture on camera bits of camp life. He spends the day blending into the hustle and recording little snippets of kids being kids at camp.

He’s again edited a short video that beautifully captures the feel of our days at Rockbrook. It’s less than two minutes long, and is completely fascinating. Sometimes it’s hard to understand what really happens at camp, how your girls are feeling while they’re here. This video is a glimpse of that for you.

I hope you’ll watch it more than once.

Enjoy!

Click here for the video Or see below.

What Leads to Friendship

It happened again today. A counselor told me she was surprised how easy it was to make friends at Rockbrook. She said it took “one day” for her to feel real friendship from people she never knew before. This was astounding to her, and a little puzzling as to how it was possible, because ordinarily, making good friends was more difficult and definitely took a lot longer. I’ve heard it many times before; camp is where we make our best “forever” friends, and for some reason it’s easier to make friends at camp than anywhere else.

knitting class for girls at summer camp

Talking about it further, and thinking about what is different about camp, we hit upon an idea. We thought, “True friendship requires authenticity. When we are most authentically our true selves, we are most capable of making friends.” This works at Rockbrook because our camp culture, with all its practiced ideals, makes it easier for girls to trust themselves and forget the worries that accompany ordinary personal interactions. This place is free of social judgment, and beautifully empowering for girls to strip away the assumptions they may have about themselves and to reveal who they really are. At camp, they discover a freedom to be “the real me,” and realize that the people in this community still value and care about them. They realize that it’s OK to be quirky (we all are in some way or another!), and OK to not be perfect.

I think camp friendships are so strong because each is formed between people being genuine like this. With no superficial posing, nervous performing, or strategic posturing, we can really get to know each other. With no competition or social jockeying, we can be more caring and truly interested in each other. That combination leads quickly to friendship… not superficial friends formed between socially constructed identities we think will be attractive, but a mutual affection born from a deep understanding of each other. Please pardon me for repeating myself, but it’s this special camp community that makes all of this possible. The lesson to be learned, we concluded, was that being a “friendly person” means being brave enough to be your true self and to be kind and caring toward others. We practice this lesson everyday at camp, inspiring us to become more and more friendly.

proud camp girl with archery bullseye

Shooting a bullseye in archery, and especially in riflery, is not easy. Just aiming, shooting, and getting lucky isn’t enough to hit the center of a target 50 feet away. It takes careful, patient techniques, a certain amount of strength to remain still as you aim, and a great deal of practice to become more accurate and precise. Even hitting the target within the scoring rings is an accomplishment, and a good first step. So when a girl hits the center of her target, it is exciting. It’s achieving a long sought-after goal. At Rockbrook, we celebrate this success in a couple of ways. If a camper hits a single bullseye in riflery or three bullseyes in archery, they join what’s called the “bullseye club,” which earns her name being announced in the dining hall during a meal. Everyone cheers when the names are read. Hitting ten bullseyes in archery earns the “golden arrow” award, and achieving one hundred bullseyes is recognized with the “golden bow” award. Yes, it’s hard to believe, but a handful of girls in the past have reached the golden bow award level by the end of their session. That’s dedication, and great skill!

camp girl reading outdoors

There seems to be a lot of readers at camp this session. During points of free time throughout the day, there are several spots around camp where you can find girls tucked in with a book. Being left to decide for themselves how they’d like to spend their free time, these girls are choosing to read. But they’re also selecting some really cool outdoor spots to kick back in their crazy creek chairs. Reading on the hill under the huge walnut tree is a popular spot because it has one of the best long range mountain views in camp. It’s common as well to see girls relaxing and reading in the many red rocking chairs situated on the lodge and dining hall porches. There’s always reading happening near the lake too. Like being on vacation, there’s something nice about reading near a body of water, especially with a friend or two sitting right nearby.

It’s been really fun to see the girls enjoy our new outdoor dining areas at camp. As places to eat, they’re a big hit. Knowing that we needed to keep our cabin group cohorts separated at meals, and that having better air flow was preferable to reduce the chance of spreading anything between cabin groups, we decided to add on to the dining hall porch and the hillside lodge porch this spring. Both porches are elevated off the ground and, like most of the buildings at Rockbrook, are surrounded by trees. This creates a gorgeous forest view from the porches. The hillside lodge porch has gained the nickname “Treetops” as a result. The porches are cool and breezy, perfect places for a pleasant al fresco dining experience, like tonight when we ate Rick’s homemade lasagna, salad, bread and fresh watermelon. Lemon bars topped with powdered sugar were for dessert. People say they love the food at camp. Perhaps eating in these new outdoor spaces is part of the reason. It certainly doesn’t hurt!

three camp teen girls

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

Delightfully Sensorial

Let me tell you about the “Cove.” That’s our name for a lovely little swimming hole located on the Rockbrook property, hidden deep in the woods about half a mile from the center of camp. It’s formed by Dunn’s Creek as it cascades down from the mountain above. This is a very rocky part of the forest which makes the stream form a long string of waterfalls and pools. One of these pools is the Cove. Hiking there first follows the spillway that carries water toward the Rockbrook lake as it winds gently through thick Rhododendron and past an amazing variety of trees. As you approach the Cove, you first hear the crashing of the waterfalls and begin to notice varieties of moss covering almost every exposed rock.

The Cove itself is beautiful. You first notice the 20-foot rock cliff on one side and the small waterfall dropping into an inviting pool of water beneath. The pool is only about 4 feet deep at its deepest point and has a nice barefoot-friendly sandy bottom. It feels like an opening to something special, a secret part of the forest preserved for those lucky enough to stumble upon it. There’s something about it that’s immediately attractive. You can’t help but think, “Wow, this is really cool.” Today, as the weather warmed up, a small group of Seniors spent their rest hour enjoying a dip in the Cove. They played in the waterfall, and soaked in the natural pool of cool, refreshing water. They loved it!

NC Sliding Rock children

Visiting the Cove, like so many of the experiences at Rockbrook, is delightfully sensorial. It quite literally bathes these girls in sensations, rich experiences that stimulate all their senses. The examples at camp are endless— the firm muscle of the horse they’re riding, the soft feathers of the chickens down at the garden, the refreshing chill of the mountain water around here. At camp you hear amazing things too: nighttime forest animals, the 100-year-old camp bell, and the occasional intense thunderstorm, for example. And taste! —the fresh organic corn we ate on the hill for dinner tonight, a different muffin flavor everyday, and the explosion of cool watermelon in your mouth when you take that first bite. At camp we get to smell the earthiness of the forest all around us, encounter the sharp smoke from a campfire, and breathe in full lungs of the freshest air. And of course, what we see everyday is the beauty of Rockbrook, this historic camp nestled in the “heart of a wooded mountain.”

You have to love this for your kids! When so much of their ordinary lives is spent staring at screens, passively receiving a filtered, curated version of the world— and even more so during the recent pandemic restrictions —they really need all their senses exercised. I suspect their longterm cognitive and emotional health depend on it! They need rich real world experiences like taking the plunge down Sliding Rock or a bite out of a freshly roasted s’more. Camp teaches them that feeling these things is normal and good, that the diversity of sensations offered by the world can be experienced by simply reaching out. I think children naturally do this. They’re curious and eager to explore. They instinctively revel in the sensorial character of camp life (no A/C needed!). I hope you can see the tragedy of those childhood instincts being hindered by the all too common allure of technological entertainment.

Thankfully, life at Rockbrook is a relief from all that. We know how to break the spell of those screens and return to more genuine experiences, more rewarding inter-actions, to a more colorful world. Your girls love it because I think they need it. And at camp, they enjoy it everyday.

small child eating s'more

Fun and Funny

What’s an activity where your feet are numb and there’s sweat under your helmet? What activity alternates between moments of calm scenic beauty and wide-eyed, scream-inducing thrills? When does a team of girls work together and rescue someone on the team when needed? What’s delightful and a little bit scary at the same time? When can you sing and dance with your friends while accomplishing important goals? When can you do a high five simultaneously with six other people? What activity brings you face to face with a powerful force of nature but ends up being hilariously fun? When is “riding the bull” the best seat in the house, and falling “in” often a highlight of the experience? When is there talk of “all forward” and “all back,” bracing and balance, surprise bumps and spins. There’s really nothing else quite like it.

If you guessed whitewater rafting, you are correct because all of these things are true for the Rockbrook girls who took a rafting trip on the Nantahala today. We took about a third of the entire camp over there in Macon county for two different trips down the river. More will go next week as well, giving every Middler and Senior a chance to go. We’ve been taking these Nantahala rafting trips at Rockbrook since the early 1980s, and since we have a US Forest service permit to do so, we can use our own guides and equipment to raft a lot, thereby allowing every girl old enough to go if they like.

Looking at these photos, and from the description above, you can tell that the girls absolutely love these trips. I’d say when the weather is good, like today’s hot and sunny conditions, whitewater rafting is easily their favorite outdoor adventure experience offered at camp. Being in the boat with your friends for the two-hour trip is both a fun social experience, and a uniquely funny one. Almost like slapstick comedy, rafting tosses the girls about, sometimes sending them into the bottom of the boat, arms and legs hilariously sprawling, and other times out into the cold river water— exciting and hilarious at the same time.

This is another example of Rockbrook girls taking something that’s already a good time and making it fantastic. They have this remarkable ability to turn up the fun. When people see our boats floating by on the river, they’re surprised and impressed by the singing, the laughing and the camaraderie. It’s not just rafting for these Rockbrook kids; it’s playful, silly, and enthusiastic rafting. It’s a group of positive friendly girls, already primed to enjoy each others company, diving deep into this experience. It’s part of that camp magic we all appreciate around here— a kind of collective exuberance for whatever we’re doing. With everyone’s bright attitude (and honestly plenty of snacks too!), at camp there’s fun to be found in everything.

One last example… Back at camp, during the block of free time we call “Twilight,” I saw a group of Juniors playing on the hill. Head counselor Ellie pulled out a pile of hula hoops and yelled, “Who wants to do some hooping?” Soon there were hoops spinning in all directions. Some spun around girls’ waists as they found the right speed to wiggle back and forth. Others spun hoops around their arms. Some rolled them along the ground and down the grassy hill. The counselors were helping and encouraging this creativity. One hoop swung like a jump rope. They had music playing from a small speaker, as well, inspiring what we might call “interpretive dance” with the hoops.

Here too, we soon had girls laughing and cheering, jumping and twirling, releasing a mysterious power to have fun. It was so simple and genuine. Just hula hoops and a little music, plus just the right amount of encouragement from some great staff members, made it possible for these young girls to exercise that power and be extraordinarily happy. It’s phenomenal to see that Rockbrook just works like that— girls getting together, relaxing into their most authentic child spirit, and creating unique experiences for each other. It’s so refreshing and very fun to see!

summer time camp girls

Unbridled Joy

This morning I was reminded of a really think soup— maybe pea —because the fog that settled above camp overnight was so thick, I felt like we could swim through it. I could barely make out a distant hill through the grey. We’ve been having extraordinary humid weather the last couple days. That means dense fog in the mornings as the temperature drops with the dew point, sunny mornings, and rainy afternoons with thunderstorms passing through. Today we saw that exact pattern. By the way, you can always check the Rockbrook weather station if you are curious about what’s going on at camp weather wise. Today I see our temperatures were between 66 and 81, the humidity close to 100% most of the day, and 1.5 inches of rain fell between 3 and 6pm. Should we call it cool tropics?

girls tennis summer camper

All of the regular camp activities fired into action today giving the girls their first taste of 4 different new things to try. Our counselors and instructors fanned out across the camp ready with supplies and equipment to teach the girls about ropes, racquets and reins. While some girls slid down the water slide, others climbed up the alpine tower. Arrows hit targets and cartwheels spun across the blue gymnastics mats. Girls twisted and tied t-shirts prepping them for colorful dyes. They rolled and pinched clay, cut and glued paper, and wove reeds after soaking them in the creek. Groups of girls soared high through the trees on our zipline course, and others slapped a ball around the gaga ball court. There was time to swim and time to dance. There were snacks to eat: chocolate chip muffins complete with a dollop of edible cookie dough on top (famously decadent around here) in the morning, and goldfish crackers in the afternoon.

girls basket weaving near creek

This year, as you may recall from our pre-camp announcements, we are scheduling these activities so each cabin group sticks together. Ordinarily at Rockbrook, the girls select their activity schedule individually, deciding for themselves if they want to focus, for example, on more craft oriented activities instead of adventure-based options. This year, to help maintain distance between cohorts (our cabin groups) we are selecting a range of activities for each cabin, giving them a taste of sports (like archery and riflery), adventure (for example, ziplining and hiking), and crafts (needlecraft and pottery, for example). There are still optional off-camp trips where girls can sign up individually to go, and there are still three blocks of free time where campers can decide on their own what they’d like to do. Horseback riding is still individually scheduled.

If an important part of camp is trying new things, this new system is great. I’ve heard from several campers that they were surprised how much they like it. One told me, “I would have never signed up for climbing, but I’m actually pretty good at it!” Sometimes if left to their own preferences girls will default to what’s safe and comfortable rather than attempting something that looks difficult. Being pulled along as part of an encouraging, supportive group, girls can surprise themselves and discover they can do things that would otherwise seem unpleasant or impossible. Camp life is full of moments like that when what’s initially challenging is overcome in the end.

summer camp dance children

This last photo deserves a quick comment. Can’t you just sense the unbridled joy, the silly enthusiasm of this dance class? Dance happens down in the Lakeview Lodge, the stone activity lodge used by the lower line for evening programs. It has mirrors all along one wall and with its smooth hardwood floor, it’s an active dance studio throughout the day. You can tell, these young girls are having a grand time zooming around, trying out different dance moves, and posing to see themselves in the mirrors. There’s exuberant fun simply in the freedom of it all, knowing a few things and then trying whatever feels right. I think that’s why you see so many different dance positions in this scene. These girls are doing their own thing, and loving it! Together and silly, laughing and smiling, they had a great time.

Finally, let me make my appeal for mail. Send it! Send a lot of it! Even just a quick note, having something in your mailbox is a big deal at camp. Your girls would love to hear how proud you are of them at camp.

summer camp forever