A Heap of Anticipation

Arriving at summer camp is always a moment of mixed emotions. Whether you are a camper returning after a previous summer, or a new camper stepping into the world of camp for the first time, or even a parent of an arriving camper, it’s an emotional time. There’s plenty of excitement, for sure, and a heap of anticipation for all the fun each day will bring, but there are ordinarily jitters as well.

girl bunkmates

There’s simply a degree of the unknown to this experience, questions from both campers and their parents that must remain unanswered until it begins to unfold. “Will I like the other girls in my cabin, and will they like me?” “Will she eat enough and sleep enough?” “Will I be strong enough to climb the tower or shoot a bow and arrow?” “Has she packed everything she’ll need?” So many questions! Uncertainty is baked into the whole experience of camp by virtue of it being so different from what’s familiar at home.

While it may be a little scary, arriving at camp is also the beginning of a great adventure, one filled with rich opportunities and new experiences. It’s guaranteed to include meeting amazing people, encountering unique natural beauty, and trying all sorts of new activities. Each day will bring exciting freedoms, and new responsibilities.

All of this means arriving at camp, and afterwards being at camp, takes some courage… again on the part of both parents and campers. It takes a willingness to lean into the experience and overpower those jitters. It takes some confidence and patience to work through things that are unfamiliar and uncertain. It takes an openness to explore and trust that there are answers to all these questions and things will be OK.

sleepaway camp group

The good news is that Rockbrook is exactly the sort of place to inspire this courage. There’s a special power at camp that bolsters and energizes your girls’ best qualities making them more adventurous, more confident and capable. In this camp environment, they can be their “best selves,” as many tend to put it. They can be more courageous because they are immersed in a positive community built upon values of kindness, caring and generosity. At Rockbrook, camp begins with the people and the relationships we form between each other. Right from the start, you feel included, respected, and supported when you arrive a camp. There’s encouragement and shared success around every corner, and reasons to laugh and cheer woven into most things. It’s this special character of the camp community that makes all of this possible.

You’ll see; those jitters will fade. As we get busy at camp, you’ll see it in the campers’ faces as they tackle new challenges and find themselves surrounded by friends. As we cooperate and communicate, striving to understand each others’ personal cares and concerns, we’ll discover new strengths more powerful than those initial uncertainties.

So welcome to camp! We’ve got lots in store, and a host of great folks to do it with. Tomorrow we’ll jump right in, feet first. The water might be chilly, but your girls have totally got this!

sleepaway camper girls

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

Shaving Cream Fight!

Take a look at these photos. Obviously, they are of the shaving cream fights we had on Sunday afternoon. We had three, one for each age group neighborhood— the Juniors, the Middlers, and the Seniors. On a sunny summer afternoon, romping around in your swimsuit with friends, sprinklers and water hoses going, is always a lot of fun. Add in cans of plain shaving cream, and you have a hilarious good time.

Camp friends shaving cream
girls smeared in shaving cream

Calling this a “fight” isn’t exactly accurate. There’s no aggressive behavior, no goal of conquest. There are no teams or score kept to be announced in the end. For that matter, there’s no defined way for a shaving cream fight to end.

So what is it? Well, it requires only a few things: a grassy field, cans of shaving cream, and a group of fun-loving friends who are comfortable with each other and are willing to get messy. High tempo dance music is optional, but recommended.

It doesn’t take long for a shaving cream fight to begin. Without any prompting in fact, the girls know exactly what to do; squirt the white slippery foam on someone. Splatter the stuff on anyone nearby. Squirt some in your hand and plop it right on her head. Get as much shaving cream on everyone else as possible, even if they try to run away. Chase after them, and spray! Rub it all over their backs. Launch globs into their hair and help them create the most fabulous hairdo they’ve ever experienced.

Of course, as you chase, you’re being chased. As you spray shaving cream, it’s being sprayed on you too. Soon everyone is covered, slippery, and looking pretty silly. Most importantly, everyone is also laughing hysterically. The feeling of being covering in shaving cream, seeing your friends’ reactions, and watching the chaos of it all, are uniquely funny. Outside of camp, you’ll never see girls having this kind of deep, affirming fun, the kind of laughter that makes you pause to take a breath. A shaving cream fight like this taps into the the most genuine of celebratory joy.

girls camp slip and slide fun

With all these slippery kids, what’s more natural than sliding down a wet sheet of plastic? At camp, that’s completely natural! The gentle slope nearby our grassy landsports field makes a great place to spread out the slide. Soon the girls were taking turns sliding two at time. Run, launch, and slide on your belly. It’s a fun challenge to stay upright, but flipping and flopping as you slide is a fine way to go.

An afternoon shaving cream fight like this proves once again that these camp girls know how to have a good time with each other. The shaving cream, water hoses, and sheet of plastic didn’t make it great. Those bits served as a catalyst of sorts for the girls themselves to create the fun. Their positive relationship with each other, the trust and goodwill already proven through days of common experience, made that fun a possibility. You can imagine a group of random people who didn’t know each other would have a hard time having fun in a shaving cream fight. Especially adults! There’s no way that could happen. A camp shaving cream fight is inherently more genuine than what could happen among any other group of people.

Perhaps that’s true about a lot of things at Rockbrook— the authenticity of our relationships, each of us living and showing our real selves, makes us enjoy ourselves more. Knowing each other this well, relaxing into who we really are because we sense this community is here to support and encourage us, opens up a quality of experience that’s just out of reach ordinarily. I do think that’s part of what makes camp life so special and enjoyable for your girls, and truly for everyone here at Rockbrook. Blame on the culture of camp, but there are real effects… even in something as simple as a shaving cream fight.

girls with shaving cream in their hair

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.

More Mindful

One of my favorite things to do during camp is to wander into an activity area and hang out with the girls. As they busily shape their clay, twist and tie white t-shirts prepping them for dyes, or struggle to find the next climbing hold on the tower, they are funny and chatty with each other. Laughter punctuates their conversations. Support and encouragement flow between them. Their instincts are so positive, so cheerful, their friendships so relaxed and natural. It’s a special experience just to witness it. Even better, I’ve found it rejuvenating to join in, if not to do the activity, then to join the conversation.

teen equestrian girl and horse

For example, today I hung out with a couple of 8th graders while they worked on their embroidery projects. It was right before dinner during the 2nd block of “free swim” free time. While I didn’t grab a needle and thread myself, we had a great conversation about how camp was going. I asked them what they thought made camp so special. For them, what do they like about life at Rockbrook (one of my favorite things to think about and ask campers about)? These two girls have been coming to camp for about 5 years each, and were here for the main 4-week session, so they would have a solid perspective to offer. I was expecting them to say how they loved the variety of activities (they did), and enjoyed the food (they did, enthusiastically!), and appreciated their counselors (“easily the best counselors I’ve ever had. I love them so much,” they told me). These clearly are important components of what makes camp life great. But after thinking about it a bit more, one of them said something extraordinarily insightful.

two cute camp girls

She said, “Being at camp makes me more mindful of things.” By “more,” she meant compared to being at home interacting with her school friends. “When I’m here I pay attention to more things, and appreciate more things,” she explained. When I asked her why that was the case, what it was about life at camp that made her more mindful, she said, “It probably has to do with not having my phone, but I think it’s also that there’s more time to slow down and notice things.”

Wow! That is so true! I think this insightful young person put her finger on one of the most important aspects of camp life— that it provides an environment that encourages us, campers and staff alike, to be more mindful. It inspires us to pay attention to the world around us, to the people, to nature, and to who we really are. So many of the important benefits of camp, I suspect, can be traced to this.

The core experience of making friends at camp, of forging a strong mutual relationship with someone who really knows you and really cares about you, grows from being mindful of each other. The success girls feel when making decisions independently, dozens of decisions each day, builds from paying attention to the details of the environment. Developing social skills depends on an awareness of others, their feelings, expectations, and needs. Tapping into the wonders and beauty of nature requires our mindful attention. To have fun, in some ways, means being attentive to the activity itself, unaware of how your skills compare, or the final score of the game.

blond child hold up wrist with bracelets

I think she is right, also, that the slower pace of camp, along with it being “screen-free,” are important conditions that make us more mindful at camp. Instead of charging full speed ahead, striving to “get ahead,” in the outside world, camp provides free time to “notice and appreciate” more of what’s right next to us. Moving too fast always means skimming over things, as being hectic is the enemy of being mindful. Life at camp is a welcome relief from all that. With less urgency in the mix, camp provides this kind of special permission to notice.

And yes, having instant, easy access to a smartphone is obviously a distraction. The lure of passive entertainment and the thrill of social media trends dull our sensitivity to the nuances around us. That’s surely a recipe for diminished relationships of all kinds. When campers can’t default to their devices whenever things slow down, or become “awkward” for some reason, they are more inclined to pay attention to, and engage with, what’s around them. Ditching their smartphones makes their lives more rich.

girl eating ice cream cone

Could this be the reason everything seems better at camp— the friendships deeper, the food more delicious, our sense of self more confident, our feelings of gratitude and love more genuine and widespread? Maybe so. Maybe taking a break from the frantic pace of ordinarily life, with all its demands and distractions, is what makes camp life feel so good. Camp is a haven from all that, a safe place to pay attention, enrich your experience, and make connections that might not otherwise form. I think that’s what this needle crafting young person meant. Girls love Rockbrook for all sorts of reasons, but I think its ability to inspire mindfulness is an important part of that positive feeling.

Isn’t that amazing?! Thank goodness for camp! It’s giving your girls firsthand experience of this approach to life. It’s showing them that paying attention is both important and rewarding. It’s demonstrating how to enrich their relationships with just about everything, people and activities alike. Camp is allowing them live these insights and perhaps later at home, to be a little more mindful.

camp girls playing gaga ball

2nd Session Video Glimpse — 3

Our amazing videographer Robbie Francis came to camp this week to film.

He’s again edited a short video that beautifully captures the feel of our days at Rockbrook. It’s less than two minutes long, so I hope you’ll watch it more than once. Seeing and hearing camp in motion is a real treat. Enjoy!

Take a look, and let us know what you think. We love your comments!

Click here for the video Or see below.

P.S. You may also enjoy last week’s video.

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

No Such Deficit

One inescapable fact about life at Rockbrook is its immersive outdoor quality. Around here the complex forces of nature, the rich textures and tones of natural beauty, are our daily companion. In every direction, there is something wonderful, something that can fill you with wonder, waiting to be noticed. Sparkling streams, angular rocks covered with moss, tiny insects scurrying across the ground, ancient trees towering above— we’re surrounded by the mysteries of the natural world.

kids exploring nature

The weather, too! We’re submerged in the morning fog, never far from the rain, feeling the sun and the wind as they appear. Sometimes we’re hot, other times cold and damp. We’re watching clouds blend with sunsets, marveling when a thunderstorm rolls through. This afternoon, for example, when the sun was out in one direction and a drizzle fell in the other, a cabin of girls stood in the rain happily getting wet as they cheered the sudden rainbow overhead.

We cherish this outdoor living at Rockbrook, fostering this organic feeling whenever we can. Instead of shielding ourselves from nature, we want our days to include it, hoping to celebrate every rich opportunity it might provide. That’s why at Rockbrook we don’t level every stepping stone, smooth every surface, or eradicate every insect we see. That’s why the compassionate “catch and release” of a stray spricket in the cabin is a skill admired around here. We carefully trim encroaching rhododendron bushes and build using stone and rough cut lumber when we can. We love to eat outside, sit on the ground in our crazy creek chairs, and wade through the creeks in camp. We love the “refreshing” cool water of the Rockbrook lake. How different this is from life in the “civilized” world where it’s more common for kids to suffer from a degree of “Nature Deficit Disorder,” as Richard Louv has put it. At Rockbrook, there’s no such deficit.

teen girl riding horse at summer camp

Riding a horse complements this close experience with nature by introducing a relationship with a living creature. Throughout each day, girls at camp are meeting horses, touching them, talking to them, caring for them, and yes, riding them. They’re using subtle, and some not so subtle, movements to communicate how the horse should behave. With the proper coaching, this allows the riders to change the horse’s gait, more faster and over obstacles like cross rails and jumps. It’s a real thrill for the girls to build their confidence with these large animals, trusting them, and cooperating with them to enjoy moving around the riding ring together. We’re seeing a strong interest in riding this session, with many first-time equestriennes giving it a try. Our 32 horses are happily getting plenty of attention!

Today all of the Middlers and Seniors who have not already gone took a trip over to the Nantahala River for whitewater rafting. It’s now a strong tradition for Rockbrook girls to raft this popular river, one that started back in the 1980s. With our own guides operating our own equipment, Rockbrook is fortunate to have a permit allowing it to run trips without outside help.

Rafting the Nantahala is always a blast, even for those who have done it is the past. Wearing the gear, riding in the boat with your friends, the “freezing” cold water, bumping and bouncing over the rapids, and goofing around for the camera— all add to the excitement and fun. We were lucky to have great weather all day today, making the trips altogether excellent. Heart pumping outdoor excitement with friends!

two girls with tub of bracelet beads