Robbie Francis of Go Swan Filmworks spent another day this past week filming at Rockbrook, capturing some of the sweet interactions at the heart of our camp community. And now we have another of his fascinating 2-minute videos to enjoy.
Take a look! There are moments of accomplishment, true affection, spirit, and of course sheer happiness. Be sure to turn up the volume to enjoy the sounds of camp too.
It’s really one of the most popular things we do at Rockbrook, something we all enjoy multiple times a day, in fact. We can’t live without it, and fortunately we have an absolute expert guiding the activity for us. It’s the meals at camp, the delicious food served by Rick and his staff in the kitchen! Three times a day, he serves home-cooked main dishes and fresh side items, all while adding extra preparations to suit the vegetarian, gluten- and dairy-free needs of the campers and staff. And you’ve heard about the full-time baker who thrills everyone each day with cookies, breads, and a surprise flavor (today was mint chocolate chip) of fresh-baked muffins. It’s simply marvelous!
Today’s lunch was a great example of the lengths Rick will go to make the food at Rockbrook special, uniquely memorable, and outstanding. It was authentic, completely made from scratch, tamales, served with black beans, fresh guacamole, sour cream, chips and salad. Preparations began several days ago, as the crew first made all the salsas: a bright red Guajillo chili sauce and a green variety combining serrano peppers, tomatillos, garlic and onions. They also roasted chicken in advance, pulling it off the bone in shreds, along with frying a blend of onions, green and red bell peppers. Each tamale has to be made individually and by hand, and when you need 1200 tamales to feed the camp, it’s quite a project. One by one, a layer of tamale filling (a paste of fine cornmeal, lime, oil and stock) is spread on a corn husk, and chicken or cheese along with one of the salsas and peppers added before folding the husk into a pocket and carefully being layered into several large pots to be cooked by steaming. The result is many delicious, hot savory treats. Part of the fun of eating tamales is unwrapping them, revealing the yummy middle of the husk pocket— undoubtedly a new experience for some the campers and staff. I would bet, this will be remembered as a favorite meal of the session.
Meanwhile, this morning girls were offered several adventure outings: a kayaking trip to the lower Green River, a canoeing trip to the French Broad, a hiking trip to Moore Cove in the Pisgah National Forest, rock climbing at Castle Rock, and a zip line tour through the course on the Rockbrook property. Such amazing opportunities to dive deep into the unique beauty of this part of western North Carolina!
This afternoon, cabin groups and their counselors planned special activities for their “cabin day.” One group had a relaxing float at the lake, while another chose an exhilarating ride on the zipline course. Two different groups took a hike to the top of Castle Rock to enjoy a view of the French Broad River valley. Two groups chose craft projects: one making tie-dye t-shirts, and another decorating compliment jars. One senior cabin planned an entire game show! —the wolves vs. the vampires in a competition to “Earn Lotso Respect.” All of the junior cabins loaded up the buses for a short trip over to Dolly’s Dairy bar, and for many their first taste of Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion or one of Dolly’s other camp flavors.
It was an exciting evening for the full session Middlers and Seniors. Along with their counselors, all 101 of us rode up into the Forest for a dinner picnic, visit to Sliding Rock, and final stop at Dolly’s. We love this trip because it combines time together eating and playing games, top-of-your-lungs excitement on the natural water slide, and what one camper called “the best ice cream in the world.” For many girls, this uniquely North Carolina experience is a highlight of their session.
Tomorrow we must say goodbye to our mini session campers, recalling fondly the fun we had together, and looking forward to our chance to be together again next summer. Thank you girls!
Leadership is a trait seen in numerous forms every day at camp. From the directors to the campers, everyone has the opportunity to be a leader in some way. Successful leadership characteristics start with the counselors, who role model patience, dedication, kindness, and teamwork. Counselors both live in cabins with campers and teach activities, so they have countless chances every day to demonstrate leadership to their peers and to their campers. In activities, counselors provide girls with opportunities to learn new things as well as facilitate appropriate challenges to help them build on skills they have learned throughout the session. In the cabin, counselors work together with their co-counselor(s) to create a warm, welcoming, and inclusive environment for their campers.
After witnessing their counselor role models, campers are inspired to take initiative in various forms. Recently, several Junior campers have created clubs (Skit Club, Game Night, and Nature Fairy Club to name a few), and even made their own announcements to the whole dining hall at meals. This sense of ownership and belonging along with the courage to try something new is fundamental to the Rockbrook experience. Campers hone their leadership skills when they take initiative and give their creativity free rein, and camp provides a supportive, encouraging environment to allow this to happen.
For some girls, they might make the leap from being a camper to being a counselor at some point in their Rockbrook career. This transition is called the Leadership Ladder, and it begins with CAs, who are the 15 year old campers. The CAs still take activities like the other campers, but their main responsibility is to plan and put on a big themed dinner and dance party called Banquet at the end of their session. CAs practice teamwork, decision making, and organization as they plan their Banquet, while at the same time still enjoying the fun opportunities for campers.
The second step in the Leadership Ladder is Hi-Ups. These are the 16 year old girls, who are technically still campers, but they have more responsibilities that allow camp to function. For instance, they set and clean up the dining hall for meals, as well as begin to help in activities rather than take them. Yesterday, the Hi-Ups put on a special Twilight event: Wockbrook Water World! They planned, set up, ran, and cleaned up the whole event for the Mini session campers who are leaving on Thursday. Everybody loved the slip n slide, water guns, sno-cones, and water balloon fight! The Hi-Ups impressed us all with their initiative, enthusiasm, and work ethic, exemplifying true Rockbrook girls.
After Hi-Ups come CITs, or Counselors-In-Training. The CITs are no longer campers as they are fully on the staff side of camp life. They live in cabins with 2 co-counselors and their campers, they help in activities, and they wash dishes after every meal. Besides learning how life is like as a counselor, CITs receive extra training with the directors to help ease the transition from camper to counselor. One activity the CITs did early in the session was about determining your natural leadership style, and what this means for working both individually and on a team. This allowed CITs time to reflect on their in- and out-of-camp experiences as leaders, and how they want to grow this session while working at Rockbrook.
Campers, CITs, counselors, and directors alike all have chances to foster their leadership skills every day. Even though there are structured times and places for teamwork, patience, and critical thinking to grow at camp, it is the unexpected, self-led moments where leadership truly flourishes.
Each summer we have campers who get to spend their special day at the best place on Earth – Rockbrook Camp! Having a birthday at camp is something unique and only applies to a handful of girls. At Rockbrook, we try to make each birthday special! First, counselors spend time creating a banner to be hung in the dining hall right next to the birthday girl. The birthday girl will walk in, see her special birthday banner, and her face will immediately light up with excitement. The banner also lets all of camp know it’s a special day! Along with the banner, cabin mates usually create a birthday card and sometimes even craft gifts from various activities to give to the birthday girl.
The next step of the birthday celebration is for the kitchen to bake the birthday girl a cake! Counselors then take the time to put icing and candy on their camper’s cake. At either lunch or dinner, the Hi-Ups will ring their song bell as the counselors walk out with the birthday cake in hand. The dining hall then breaks into a beautiful chorus of “Happy Birthday.” Once the counselors reach the birthday girl she can blow out her candles and make a wish as the dining hall chants “stand up, stand up, stand up!” As the birthday girl stands, the campers chant “tell us when to stop” and then they begin counting. When the campers count up to the birthday girl’s age she will wave her hands signaling them to stop! We then all cheer and the birthday girl and her cabin mates get to enjoy the delicious homemade birthday cake!
Today is July 8th, and we happened to have two special birthday celebrations! First was to celebrate one of our fabulous Hi-Up counselors! Mia turned 22 today and was celebrated with a three layered cake covered in candy, along with a dance break at lunch where we all got to dance to Taylor Swift’s song “22.” This evening we celebrated the second birthday of our beloved camp dog Felix! During twilight, Felix showed us all of his wonderful tricks he learned at doggy school. He rolled over, gave high fives, and even jumped over a hurdle and through a hula hoop! The crowed cheered and continued the camp tradition of singing “Happy Birthday.” Felix then got a dog-friendly cake of his own – he really enjoyed licking the icing! We ended Felix’s birthday celebration by eating dog-shaped cookies the kitchen staff so kindly made for dessert!
We are so lucky to live in such a joyful and supportive community here at Rockbrook, where we can celebrate occasions large and small. Whether you hit a certain number of bullseyes, swam a specific number of mermaid laps, or you are having a birthday at camp, there are always fun and exciting celebrations in store.
Sunday mornings begin at a more relaxed pace compared to the rest of the week. We all sleep in an extra few minutes and then arrive for breakfast in pajamas… no worries about being dressed with cabin chores done beforehand. Also on Sunday, it’s been a long standing treat to serve fresh donuts along with our breakfast, having a little taste of the outside world. Then there’s cabin time for changing into our uniforms (white with a red tie) before assembling on the hill for flag raising. The Hi-Ups do the honors of presenting and raising the flag. Immediately afterwards, everyone walks down the lower line of cabins to the wooded amphitheater where we hold our Chapel program.
Today the Middler campers and some of their counselors presented a program on “Nature.” Like all of our chapel programs, this gathering was not a religious ceremony, but instead an opportunity to identify and reflect upon a core value or experience we all share at camp. In the past, we’ve held chapel programs on friendship, kindness, gratitude, community, and compassion for example. This morning we took time to consider our relationship with the natural world.
We sang “Tell me Why,” a slightly modified lyric to “Country Roads,” (“Almost Heaven, Rockbrook Camp..”) and “What a Wonderful World,” accompanied by Tunde on guitar and Isa playing ukulele. We heard short readings on Nature selected by campers Sidney, E.A., Amelia, and Elizabeth.
Camper K.P. read a short reflection she wrote about her feelings in Nature and its importance to all of us. She said,
Nature is all around us. It is a big part of Rockbrook and it has a role in almost everything we do here. Rafting the Nantahala, hiking to Castle Rock, even dinner on the hill: Nature is a way of life around Rockbrook and we all live it.
Sometimes it is calming to just sit on the Hillside Lodge porch and look down at the garden, watch campers play in the creek, and see the girls splashing around in the lake. The serene setting of Rockbrook on a North Carolina mountain surrounded by trees and species of plants is the nicest place I know.
Sarah echoed this sentiment by reading the illustrated children’s book, “You Are Never Alone” by Elin Kelsey. This is a wonderful reminder of how nature touches almost every aspect of our lives, that “this beautiful planet showers [us] with gifts” in so many ways. The book illustrates how nature supports and at times heals us, how it stimulates our emotions, sense of wonder and imagination. Quite literally, Nature helps us be human. Much like what we enjoy at Rockbrook, it is a “warm, supportive, community that is always there for [us].” Sarah added how lucky we are at camp to experience the plants and animals of the forest (yes, even the “sprickets”) so intimately, feeling the joys of Nature without a care in the world. This message really resonated with the girls, many of them nodding their heads in agreement as she read the book. Good stuff!
Lunch was another incredible meal prepared by Rick and his kitchen crew— roasted, dry-rubbed chicken breasts, fingerling potatoes, and honey-glazed, oven-roasted Brussel sprouts, with fresh blackberries and whipped cream for dessert. Amazing! The food at Rockbrook always gets high marks, and with meals like this, you can easily see why!
Our all-camp afternoon activity was a wild carnival of events down at the landsports field. With fun music pumping, and different snacks to keep us going, the girls enjoyed group games and challenges related to the theme of “food.” For example, one event challenged the girls to eat a doughnut dangling from the end of a string without using their hands. Similarly, another challenge required the girls to peel a banana (first cut in half) using only their feet. We used actual pieces of corn on the cob to play games of corn hole. The girls took turns making “pies” of whipped cream to toss at their counselors. There was a “grit pit,” a literal pool of warm grits, to experience. There were cookies to decorate, and beaded composting “worms” to make. One game was particularly fun, a challenge to use only rubber bands to break open a watermelon. They girls worked together stretching two or three rubber bands at a time over each watermelon, gradually adding to the band’s total pressure. There was only a small crack forming to warn them before the melon exploded to bits leaving a ball of sticky rubber bands behind. It was very exciting, and the kind of big crazy fun, we love at camp.
It’s not too difficult to see that the girls at Rockbrook this session are having a great time. If you visit camp, all the action is what you first notice: the horseback riding at the barn, the rock climbing at Castle Rock, the kayak roll sessions in the lake, the spinning pottery wheels, clicking looms, nimble scissors, and busy knitting needles. Likewise, your first glance at the photo gallery leaves the same impression. The girls at camp are engaged in so many ways, happily active, smiling and chatting with each other.
That’s all good stuff, but on another level, there’s something remarkable also going on. It’s the culture of Rockbrook. It’s the way the girls treat each other, the assumptions and values that subtly guide them. It’s how it feels to be at Rockbrook, living and playing together in this tight-knit community.
It’s tricky describing this culture because it’s certainly multifaceted and complicated, but one aspect I think worth noting is the sense of belonging girls enjoy at Rockbrook. Almost immediately after they arrive, girls are comfortably in groups around camp, paying attention to each other, including each other no matter what’s going on. Cabin groups provide the backbone of this feeling, but it’s present everywhere. Free from the competitive social and academic pressures of school, this all-girls environment is devoted foremost to the quality relationships we have with each other. Simply put, the culture of Rockbrook, and by extension what it means to be a “Rockbrook Girl,” begins with being “nice” to each other.
Thinking about the traditional “Rockbrook prayer” recited during the “Goodnight Circle,” programming staff member Savannah put it this way:
The culture here at Rockbrook is one of optimism, respect, love, and altruism. The amount of kindness is astounding; people are always seeking out ways to brighten someone else’s day in any manner. Each positive encounter, no matter how small, can always somehow be traced back to at least one aspect of the prayer. The message encourages girls to stand up for what is right, to be their best selves no matter who is watching (or not watching), and to aim towards making the camp community even better than it already is. It allows us to feel a sense of support unlike anything else.
Campers are more than willing to take opportunities to “do a little good” by writing a friend a sweet note, picking up a piece of litter on the ground, or walking a younger camper to her activity. Everyday at camp is filled with these small, sweet moments.
I’ve written about why girls love camp, and there are certainly many reasons. But perhaps most importantly, Rockbrook is a place where girls feel they belong, where who they really are (and not who they think they’re supposed to be) matters. At camp, there’s mutual caring. It’s a place where we all value and rely on each other without any reference to our age, our intellect, or our looks. Nobody has to say it, but for these girls, Rockbrook is “a place of their own” where they feel safe and happy. And that feeling becomes the foundation for all of our relationships at camp, the root of the friendships, and the spark for personal growth.
More than ever these days, young people need certain experiences to overcome the forces of abstraction and isolation they face. Just think, for example, how all that screen time impacts their ability to communicate face-to-face, to engage the inevitable imperfections of the real world (compared to the edited and filtered online version of things), and to be actively creative and confidently engaged. They need a place of belonging where they can practice being more connected to those around them, where they can play, encounter new challenging experiences, and grow.
Robbie Francis of Go Swan Filmworks (and Rockbrook dad!) has returned this summer to film and present a series of his excellent highlights videos for us.
This is the fourth year Robbie has been making these occasional videos at Rockbrook, much to everyone’s delight. It’s amazing how he can convey the sweet interactions and overall feeling of camp life in just under two minutes.
Robbie filmed earlier this week and now we have his first video for the second session. Take a look and enjoy. It’s great fun to watch.
As you can see, this was no ordinary morning, in fact no ordinary day, because it was the 4th of July! Instead of our regular bell, some of the riding staff rode horses up into camp to wake up the campers. With the staff dressed in red, white and blue, and with the horses also decorated in American flag patterned ribbons and paint, the campers woke to the sounds of hoof beats and shouts of “The British are coming! The British are coming!” up and down the cabin lines. Somewhat sleepy-eyed, the girls made their way through the morning fog to the hill to assemble around the flagpole for the Hi-Ups to raise the flag, and everyone to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing “America the Beautiful.”
Of course, horses were not the only thing decorated in red, white and blue today. You could see it everywhere around camp! In the dining hall on table decorations, on hats, headbands, beaded necklaces, t-shirts and other things people were wearing, some of the food we ate today (Oh, those brownie cakes!), and the body paint that seemed to become more prevalent as the day progressed. Similarly, the girls sang their favorite patriotic songs at meals— “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” for example —adding to the normal lively Rockbrook songs. There was no doubt these girls were ready to celebrate!
It also being Thursday, we decided to keep our regular activity schedule throughout the day. The difference, again, was the addition of those patriotic colors. There were American flags flapping in the wind as girls zipped through the woods, stars and stripes on the backs of archers, proudly worn by potters, weavers, tennis players and climbers alike. Campers carried the colors on a hike to Rockbrook Falls, to the top of Castle Rock while climbing on belay, and down to the barns for their riding lessons.
A group of girls enjoyed a relaxing morning in the “nest,” our hammock campsite located just below Castle Rock. Part of the fun is figuring out how and where to hang their hammocks among the rock anchors, but it is also a nice way to spend time with friends. Later, two other groups hiked to Stick Biscuit Falls to make actual stick biscuits. This waterfall, which is located in the woods up behind the office, has a dry area behind where the water cascades down from the rock above, creating a natural umbrella of sorts. The staff built a fire in this area making it possible for the girls to roast their biscuits (dough wrapped tightly on the end of stick) while the water crashed right nearby.
Dinner tonight took advantage of our well-loved charcoal grill, as we pulled out an all-American cookout of hot dogs (beef and veggie), homemade coleslaw, potato chips, freshly sliced watermelon (more than we could eat!) and a can of Cheerwine soda chilled in the stream for everyone. A playlist of America-themed music helped set the mood, and as the girls enjoyed their dinner together, they played and danced with their friends on the hill.
Dividing up into three multi-age teams —yep, a red, a white, and a blue team —we all stayed on the hill for a few fun relays. Girls raced to fill buckets with water squeezed from a sponge. They carefully tossed water balloons stepping gradually further apart after each toss. They competed for the longest hula-hooping session. They struggled to thaw a frozen t-shirt as quickly as possible, and took turns bending their backs in an exciting limbo line. Naturally, as some girls participated in these games, their teammates cheered them on, sang and danced to the music.
As darkness fell, the spectacular finish for our day was our own Rockbrook fireworks show. We pulled out glow sticks for all the girls and were ready with more pop music to blast during the show. For the next 40 minutes or so, we all enjoyed another sing-along dance party, the girls twirling their glow sticks and cheering with every sparkling blast in the air. It was an exciting, special finish to a full camp day.
What a Wednesday! Today our regular activity schedule paused for the afternoon to allow cabin groups time for a special activity together. This mid-week “cabin day” is a great time for girls to bond with and get to know their cabin mates even further. The counselors put a lot of thought into cabin day, starting their planning and preparation at the beginning of each week. The other fun part: it’s a surprise for the girls! They never know if they might be hiking up to Castle Rock, playing group games at the gym, having a spa, making a yummy treat, being creative with a craft project, or leaving camp for an exciting adventure at Sliding Rock! Each week it’s something different and enjoyable for the girls.
Today, one of our Junior cabins created “compliment jars” for one another. This involved first decorating large mason jars with stickers, paint, tape and scraps of colorful paper. Once they had personalized their jars, the girls then wrote complements on small slips of paper dropping one into each person’s jar. Soon each girl had a jar full of complements to read. This is an exciting time for everyone, and such a fun way to make all of the girls feel loved, noticed, and celebrated by their peers and counselors alike. Compliment jars are often displayed in the girls cabins and even treasured at home throughout the school year!
Meanwhile, a Middler cabin could be found hanging out in the ‘nest’ near Castle Rock, the huge rock face right up the mountain on the camp property. The top of Castle Rock is a fantastic hiking destination, offering an amazing view of the Blue Ridge mountains, and out on the face, we have 5 different rock climbing routes the girls can tackle. This year, though, Rockbrook gained a new addition up there— The Nest! The nest is an alcove tucked under a wide, flat portion of Castle Rock where we found the perfect place to hang Eno hammocks. Using rock anchors, we can set up a nest of up to 15 hammocks, creating a fun hangout area with a beautiful view of the forest and the surrounding mountains.
A different Middler cabin was having a fun and messy paint fight on the hill! This involved white t-shirts, bright paints, and lots of laughs! The girls began with clean shirts, but by the end of this activity, their t-shirts were far from white. They took turns painting on one another’s shirts, and happily splattering each other. This was a special day for this cabin, because these girls love to get creative and messy, and how often do girls get to play with this kind of abandon? This cabin was laughing and smiling non-stop, and they finished up this paint-filled cabin day by jumping in our refreshing lake to clean up.
One of the more original and exciting cabin day ideas today was a tea party being held by one of our senior cabins. This cabin’s counselors transformed a table on the porch of the Hillside Lodge into a fancy tea party setting, where the girls were instructed to arrive wearing their “fanciest gowns,” which for us means “amazing silly costumes!” These girls drank tea out of mugs, ate tiny cakes, and practiced ballroom dancing around the lodge. It was refreshing to see our senior campers enjoying themselves so much at a tea party, which most of them said they had not done since they were much younger. This particular cabin day activity provided these girls an opportunity to play and pretend again, to use their imaginations, and to celebrate and laugh with one another. Once a again, opening up, being a kid at camp, felt really, really good.
When it gets hot outside, Rockbrook girls go to the water. It’s rare around here that the high temperatures reach above 90 degrees. It helps that being in the mountains keeps things cooler at night, and Rockbrook is tucked into a forested, west-facing slope giving it plenty of shade most of the morning, but there are always a few summer days, like today, when temperatures can climb. Fortunately at camp, we have plenty of ways to stay cool by taking a dip, splashing around, and otherwise getting wet.
For example, the different creeks flowing through camp become water-park playgrounds for the girls during their free time periods. Above Curosty, the fiber arts cabin, you’ll find campers standing in the water— even sitting sometimes! —arranging small stones, floating their flip-flop shoes, and just enjoying the moving water headed to the lake. In front of Goodwill, the paper crafts cabin, the stream has more moss, larger stones to turn over and reveal small insects and other creatures —salamanders! crayfish! Armed with a small paper cup, girls are happily exploring, on the hunt for something of wonder.
Of course, the lake is the best place to cool off at camp. The diving board, 50-foot water slide, and variety of floating toys make it a fun and inviting place. Plus it’s always highly social, with groups swimming laps, playing “categories,” or lounging together in the water. As you might expect, the swimming and boating activities, plus the two free swim periods, have been extra popular with this sort of weather.
About 70 campers chose to experience the ultimate cooling adventure today over in Swain county, a whitewater rafting trip down the Nantahala River. Two buses of girls spent the night beforehand at our outpost camp that adjoins the National Forest. After a quick dinner, the girls sang songs around the campfire and topped off their evening by roasting marshmallows for s-mores. The next day, all the other girls met our Rockbrook adventure guides to take the two-hour trip down the Nantahala River. This is such a fun time for the girls. Take a look at the photo gallery (or click these rafting photos) to see their hilarious laughter, wide-eyed moments of foreboding, and cheerful screams through the rapids. In the bright sunshine, the layer of cool air hovering over the cold, cold river water, felt really good today. It was an ideal day of rafting.
Finally, there was a fun surprise for the girls announced during dinner. The whole camp would have a “counselor hunt!” This is a giant, whole-camp version of hide and seek where all the counselors disappear into hiding places all over the camp, and each cabin group together searches. Each counselor was worth a secret number of points (some positive and some negative!) so that after the 45 minutes of searching, the tally would also be a surprise. The camp bell signaled the start and finish of the hunt, and the winning cabin received a sweet treat from the kitchen.
It’s only been a few days, and already this session of camp is absolutely grand. So many friendly girls and enthusiastic counselors, with all the great activities happening, are blending to fill our excellent days.