Anything But Ordinary

When you hear the morning bell at Rockbrook, you can picture parts of your day right away. You probably know what activities you’re going to take, you know at what times you’ll eat, and you’ll pull yourself awake knowing that rest hour is coming in the middle part of the day. You’ll probably have a suspicion that you’ll laugh a lot during the day, that someone will do something kind for you, that you’ll go to sleep at night with a different camp song stuck in your head.

cute camp swim girls
camp tetherball buddies

But for all that you do know as you start thinking about today, there’s also a rush of excitement realizing there’s so much you do not know about the day, and it’s rife with possibility. There is a novelty and liveliness about each day that makes getting up that much easier, as you anticipate all of the paths the day might take.

Today was dotted with these unexpected moments. It happens when you hear the music start mid-breakfast and a flash mob suddenly begins, dancing in step to carefully choreographed dances and keeping it secret from the rest of us until just the moment when we’re least expecting it. The dining hall goes wild, delighted by the impressive entertainment that has made this meal extra joyful.

You go to your first activity and you throw some clay on the wheel. It’s harder than you imagined, but you find it calming all the while. After, news is traveling up and down the hill quickly about the muffin flavor. You’re somewhat used to this, but there is a unique enthusiasm in the way that people tell you: mint chocolate chip! A camp favorite, and something you look forward to throughout the year. As you wait in the muffin line, you realize that your shoes are exactly the same as the person in front of you. You start talking about the colors and why you chose them, and you have an inkling that a new friendship has been formed. You step back and think about how this happens so much here–some of the best friends of your life may not have been made because they were your bunkmate, but just as a happy accident of playing next to each other in the creek or sitting next to each other in the lodge. Making friends is easier here, maybe because you’re away from your phone and you’re engaged in more conversations, maybe because people are just a little gentler here, softer, wanting to be your friend, too, and maybe this will help you realize that you can make friends easier away from camp, too.

zipline summer camp group

It was just announced that your cabin is zip lining for second period, and before you know it, you’re soaring through the trees, the sound of the zipline intermingling with the rush of the nearby waterfall. When you’re nervous about crossing a bridge to get to the next zip line, your best friend reassures you that you can do it, and that confidence and care warms you from the inside out.

You go to lunch and after, you have a note in your mailbox that’s written by a kind stranger saying simply, “You’re Awesome!” and you think about how special this place is that someone would be thoughtful enough to write this. After rest hour, you have cabin day, and your cabin is doing an egg drop. You and your cabinmates have never thought so hard about how to keep a little egg from breaking, but you work to construct the best parachute that you can come up with. Using bubble wrap, sparkly pipe cleaners, and string, you fashion the best protection you can for your little egg before dropping it off the balcony of a lodge. Yours is safe in the landing, no yoke visible, and you feel a rush of victory that comes from a mission well accomplished.

camp egg drop group

As dinner approaches, you are enthralled by the rush of energy that the dining hall is filled with tonight, delighted when the Hi-Ups bring back the Banana Song and you sing “Go Bananas!” loudly while dancing around in a circle. You spend a few minutes at twilight rolling down the hill with your friends, a cabinmate’s idea that just looks fun, and then you sing your favorite camp songs while waiting for evening program to begin.

The day ends with you watching the splendor of a dramatic sunset lighting up the sky, surrounded by the deep blues of clouds, the orange and pink shining through. And you think about how well-lived this day was, and know that there none of your others will be just like it. Maybe it was a normal day at camp for you–a routine you anticipated, a predictable structure. And yet when you look back on it, it was special. Today brought you closer to friends, it made you feel more connected to the Rockbrook community, there were delights you never could have anticipated and wouldn’t trade for anything. Because at Rockbrook, you realize, there simply aren’t ordinary days.

girl summer camp crafts

Permission to Relax

Let’s take a quick look at camp “free time.” If you’ve seen the Rockbrook daily schedule, you’ll notice there are three main blocks when the girls are not scheduled to be at a certain activity, meal, or age group gathering— “First Free Swim” right before lunch, “Second Free Swim” right before dinner, and “Twilight” right after dinner. The idea behind all this free time is to avoid over scheduling the campers’ days (something that’s pretty common the rest of the year) and to provide them with even more opportunities to decide for themselves how to fill their days. We think it adds significantly to that great feeling of freedom the girls love about camp.

summer camp running club

How the campers spend their free time is fascinating. It varies widely. They have the whole camp at their disposal, and while certain activities that require skilled instruction or special supervision for safety reasons are closed, many areas are open. So we provide lots of options, but don’t require any particular thing. For example, the girls can finish craft projects in one the many craft areas if they like. They can visit the tennis courts to practice serving or the gym to shoot some hoops, and of course the lake is staffed for those who might want to swim or cool off with a ride down the waterslide.

There are a couple of organized clubs that meet during the First Free Swim. One is the “Rockbrook Runners” running club. Anyone interested can meet at Hiker’s Rock near the dining hall and join the group as they head out on a 2-mile loop through the woods of camp. Some folks run, and others walk. It’s a gathering of all age groups and abilities. For those dedicated runners, logging 26 miles (13 for mini session campers) earns them a spot in the “Marathon Club.”

Another club meets at the lake for a different form of exercise— swimming laps. Here too, the goal is for anyone interested to swim a certain number of laps and be inducted into the “Mermaid Club.” There are different amounts of laps that each age group needs to swim to be deemed a “mermaid,” but when they complete the number, the lifeguards announce their name in the dining hall. This is true for all of the various club achievements; we recognize members during the announcements that follow a meal.

It’s also common for campers to use these free swim periods to meet up with friends from different cabins or even different age groups. They’ll meet at one of the tetherball courts, the gagaball pit, or the new nine square in the air court. The youngest girls have fun during free time playing in the creek by Curosty. They’ll take their shoes off and wade in the water, rearranging rocks to make waterfalls and currents. Others will grab their crazy creek chairs and sit on the hill reading. It’s the same for the many red rocking chairs on all the porches at camp; they’re great places to relax and read a book.

During the after-dinner “twilight” time, we always schedule some kind of optional activity. It varies from playing a huge game of dodgeball in the gym to a hula hooping contest on the hill. Last night, a couple of counselors led a session of joke telling, essentially a group stand up comedy show. The counselors take turns leading these twilight activities, so you never know what will be announced at dinner.

Perhaps the best thing, however, to do with this free time is to take advantage of the freedom and simply do nothing. Yep, it’s nice for these campers to give themselves permission to just relax with no expectations of productivity or progress. Some of the older girls love this. They take showers, hang out and talk, and just soak in the vibe of camp… completely at their leisure. Like that resort vacation where you spend all day at the pool ignoring other amenities and activities, these girls enjoy just being at camp with their friends. That’s the core experience for them, and it’s made even better somehow during their free time. For them, it might be “free,” but that makes even more valuable.

small camp girls in costume

How to Help Kids Develop Courage

You’re probably not surprised, but my answer points to camp. I believe life at summer camp, especially at a place like Rockbrook, provides unique experiences that show kids how to approach things more courageously. It gives them daily opportunities to act bravely and to develop the confidence to be courageous in the future.

A conversation with a longtime camper yesterday evening got me thinking along these lines. At one point she came right out and said it. She said, “I’m always more confident and brave when I get back from camp.” Isn’t that great!? She continued, “at camp, I figure out how to be my best self, even though that’s hard at home.” Wow! Doubly great!

I do think Rockbrook’s unique culture and setting is ideal for developing positive character traits. Thinking of that motto, to be “kind, silly and brave,” camp provides a special form of encouragement, and loads of role models, for everyone here to practice and realize their kindness, silliness, and bravery.

We already know that camp teaches kindness, and practicing being kind is a practical strategy for being happier. The spirit of the Rockbrook community is rooted in this emphasis on kindness, caring and generosity. It’s the starting point for almost everything we do. Be kind! We also know that being silly, again something central to Rockbrook, helps us feel more comfortable being true to ourselves. At camp, there’s applause for your zany costume, cheers for the outrageous character you invented for a skit, and unrestrained affirmation for “you being you” all day long. Be silly!

But to complete the phrase— “Be kind, Be silly, Be brave” —what can we say about camp teaching kids to be brave? How does camp inspire children to develop courage?

Most explicitly, we are encouraging our kids to be brave simply by sending them to camp. We’re placing them in a new environment where they are, on their own, doing new things. It takes courage for a child to leave the safety and familiarity of home, mom’s food, comfortable private spaces, and nowadays for teenagers, the security of their personal smartphones. Camp is so utterly different from life at home, it’s by definition challenging and can easily be uncertain and scary. There are bound to be social challenges at camp too, lots of unfamiliar people to encounter and learn to be friends with. But at camp, all of this is completely normal, expected and encouraged. It’s supposed to be different from home in these ways; and that’s what makes it great!

Simply being here proves to girls, they can do it. Even when they are feeling scared, they can overcome challenges on their own. They can makes friends even when they don’t know anyone. They can try that homemade quinoa salad (it might be good!). They can entertain themselves by being creative even without their smartphones. They can share a room with nine other people, help clean up common spaces, and be interested in how other people are doing. They can sign up for a painting class even if they’re a little afraid they’re “no good at art.” They can let themselves be silly performing a skit in front of 100 people. Kids are courageous by simply being at camp. They prove their bravery by living their camp life.

summer camp rock climbing
Camp Whitewater Kayaking

This is also true with respect to many of the activities at camp. They take courage just to give them a try! Take rock climbing. Not only is it physically demanding to pull yourself up a steep rock face using just your feet and fingers, it’s scary to be up that high in the air. You have to be brave to overpower your fear of heights with concentration and determination. We can point to whitewater kayaking in a similar way. It takes nerve to strap into a tiny boat, and using just your skills and a paddle, face the power of moving whitewater. The risk of capsizing is constant, but here too, camp girls are facing it bravely. Every adventure activity requires courage since the outcome always includes some degree of uncertainty. Through these activities girls learn to tap into their courageous spirit when needed.

The art activities at camp teach another important lesson about courage. The girls learn that being “perfect” is not the goal, that “messing up” is OK because what’s most important is the process of doing. Art at camp is done for “the fun of it,” for the joy of creative expression, and for the guaranteed novelty of the experience. There’s really no way to “fail,” so camp art projects do wonders to lessen any “fear of failure” a child might harbor. It still takes courage to pick up a paint brush, since again, there’s no telling how your efforts to paint will turn out. But making that decision to try is the most important step.

It’s also important that camp is a place where children make their own decisions. Throughout their day, they are faced with choices, and after considering what different options entail, live with the consequences of what they decide. This agency is truly empowering and a great source of self confidence. Making decisions independently, and having them turn out fine, gives kids real life evidence that even in times of uncertainty, they can be brave and make a choice. They can lean in rather than shy away. Choosing what activities to take, weighing how to spend their free time, deciding to stand up for themselves in a difficult social encounter, making the leap to help someone, consciously just taking care of things— these are all camp experiences where girls show their bravery and prove they’re powerful.

In all these ways, kids are brave at camp. Different perhaps from at home, here they find themselves in situations that require courage and still, they act. They face their fears and tackle adventure. They learn that it’s OK to make mistakes and try again. They make countless decisions for themselves moving through a complex social landscape.

So what is it about camp that helps kids do all this? Yes, they’re acting bravely while here, but what’s special about camp life that gives them this nerve?

Here again, I think we can point to the camp community and its values as the source of this power to inspire bravery. It starts with a very explicit ethic to be nice, to be friendly, supportive and accepting. Rockbrook is also a place free from competition, and instead champions enthusiastic cooperation, genuine communication and joyful participation. Essentially, the camp community stands behind everyone here making the consequences of being brave (of doing uncertain things) less worrisome. There’s less to be afraid of when we’re not competing, when creativity is valued over perfection, and when we have friends by our side. Kids are brave at camp because we’re all being brave together, proving to each other that everything’s fine.

But when this kind of community support is missing, as it tends to be outside of camp, it’s of course more difficult to be brave. There’s simply more trepidation in the real world of competition, prejudice, and pressures to perform. Our hope though is that, like the camper who told me she’s more courageous right after camp, all of your girls too will have strengthened their nerve while they’re at Rockbrook. We hope they’ll remember all the new things they’ve accomplished, all the challenges they’ve overcome, and all the decisions they’ve made successfully— all on their own, independently from their parents. Seeing your girls be this brave at camp, you’d be very proud. Seeing their courage at home, even more so.

Real Camp Friends

A Parade of Smiles

Arriving at camp, as our 2nd July mini session campers did today, is always exciting. For this particular session, it was exciting for the campers arriving, after all they’ve been waiting a long time for this day, but it’s also exciting for all of us already at camp because we’ll be seeing old friends returning to camp as well as plenty of new people to meet.

carrying trunk on camp move in day
two camp counselors

The evidence for this was written on so many faces this morning. It was literally a parade of smiles… smiling parents as they saw the enthusiasm of the Rockbrook staff, smiling campers as they began to pick up the friendly vibe of camp, and smiling counselors eager to meet their newly arrived campers. The counselors really look forward to meeting their campers. After only seeing their profile photos, it’s so much better to finally meet the girls and begin to understand their personalities.

Of course, the arriving campers are looking forward to everything. They are eager to meet their cabin mates, even if that can also be a little nerve wracking for some. Entering any new social setting carries a little uncertainty, but it doesn’t take long for girls to realize that people at camp are nice. They’re kind, and want to be your friend, so that calms any nervousness that might be bubbling up.

Our drive thru check-in process worked smoothly, with most families only waiting short while to make their way through all the stations. Thank you for your patience!

By noon, everyone had arrived and the girls were busy setting up their cabins and getting to know each other. Meanwhile, the full session campers had gone to chapel, where the Senior girls led everyone in a program on the theme of “Nature.” Being at camp means immersing yourself in nature, getting to feel its forces, and personally experiencing its nuances. Camp is a place where nature is a daily participant, rather than something we shield ourselves from. How that affects us, and what that might mean, are interesting questions to think about. And what better place to do that than camp?

As we sat to eat Rick’s famous comfort food lunch— homemade mac-n-cheese, sautéed veggies, and fresh blueberries and blackberries —the weather turned a little rainy, and it looked like the forecast was intermittent rain for the rest of the day.

camp girls swimming towels

This delayed our swimming demonstrations a bit, but we were still able to fit most of them in between rainy spells. These “swim demos” are a way for campers to show our waterfront staff how comfortable they are in the water, swimming and treading water without difficulty. Doing that earns everyone a colored tag for the tag board, which is a system we use to keep a tally of swimmers when the lake is open. It was still a little misty throughout the “demos,” so the chilly lake water was even more surprising for the girls. But the crowd was just as encouraging and the lifeguards just as supportive of everyone taking their mountain dip. I’m sure those dry towels felt really good afterwards!

Our afternoon activity was an all-camp event we held in the gym (again, to avoid the rain of the day)— a reptile show. This was a fascinating close encounter with several different snakes, a tortoise (a 50-year-old red footed tortoise named Rex), and a detailed presentation of “ophiology,” the study of snakes.

surprised camp girl touching a snake

What did we learn? Mostly, that snakes are really cool! The campers learned the difference between a poisonous snake (don’t eat it or touch it) and a venomous snake (don’t let it bite you). They learned that snakes are often misunderstood. They’re not “slimy,” and they won’t attack human beings unless threatened or provoked. We heard that some snakes will play dead if near a predator, and others will run away. The girls were able to see, and touch! if they were so brave, a 4-ft long boa constrictor from Columbia, a 5-ft long grey banded rat snake, an eastern hog nosed snake, and a yellow rat snake named Josie that looked like an over-ripe banana. Girls had questions too. “Is it true that you can tell the age of a rattlesnake by its rattle?” No. “Have you ever been bit by a snake?” Yes, but it wasn’t venomous so it wasn’t bad. “Can I touch?” Yes, please do!

Our hope is that the girls are now a little more informed about snakes, more curious about them, and possibly less frightened by them. At camp, we caution the girls to stay away from any snake they might see, and to alert a counselor. If the snake is venomous, we have a special tool one of the directors can use to catch it, and remove it from camp. We won’t kill a snake, just release it somewhere farther away from the people at camp. After today’s presentation, I think the girls do have a new respect and admiration for snakes, but also an understanding about being cautious around them.

Life Lessons, Silly String and Llamas

A couple of camper dads sent me a link to an article in the Wall Street Journal about summer camp. It’s an interesting memoir of sorts by Rich Cohen entitled, “The Life Lessons of Summer Camp: The Enduring Frontier.” The article is behind a paywall requiring a subscription to read it, but I thought a couple of the points it makes are worth highlighting, mostly because they apply to Rockbrook as well. I really appreciate the fondness he has for his years at camp, and the long lasting impact those years have had on him as an adult. He claims, “Everything important I know, I learned at camp.”

summer camp girl woodworker

He’s not talking about the things he learned in his activities, like how to shoot archery or roll a kayak. He means more important things like being a stronger person, being independent enough to solve his own problems, and confident enough to “face new situations, read hierarchies, make my way among strangers, [and be] able to adapt.”

I’d say similar things for the girls at Rockbrook. As an adult, they might be able to remember how to weave on a loom or shape a wooden cutting board, but what’s important is their learning to be a good friend through kindness, to be more independent and confident when facing new things, and to be more comfortable being who they really are. There are many of these deeper lessons learned at camp.

Cohen’s article also summarizes the history of summer camps in America from its earliest example, the camp established in 1861 by Frederick Gunn, through the many camps established in the early 1900s devoted to “character building” and time outdoors closer to nature. Camps have of course changed over the years— shorter sessions, better food, and way more photos being taken —but the core experience of camp remains the same.

“[Camp is] still not home. It’s still no parents. It’s still new people. It’s still the woods. It’s still the world. It’s still 15 bodies in a bunk, stiff beds, wool blankets, no TV, rank odor, fungus, bugs, pranks, bed-wetters, summer friends, dark nights and star-filled skies. It’s still your best chance of getting them away from the phones and screens. It’s still paradisiacal and green. And it’s still what we need— now more than ever.”

silly string attacking director

“Spin the wheel! Spin the wheel!” That’s a shout we hear now and then in the dining hall. It’s a call for us to play a game that selects a lucky person to come forward and spin a “prize wheel” we have mounted on the wall. Somewhat like the wheel that was spun on the old game show “The Price is Right,” when the wheel is spun, a clicker lands on a space indicating a particular “prize.” For us, it might be “free toothbrush,” “joyride on the golf cart,” or the most coveted, “trip to Dolly’s.” This past week a Senior cabin won “Mystery” on their spin of the wheel. What was the mystery prize? Spraying me with silly string! Yes, apparently that is big fun for these campers to each empty a can of silly string on me, spraying me as I sat in a chair. Other campers and staff watched and cheered as the sticky string built up all over me. Like so many things at camp, it was fun and funny, a little bit messy, and something everyone enjoyed. I bet it’s also something we’ll all remember for a long time!

The other surprise of the day was a visit from six fascinating furry creatures— llamas! We met this visiting herd down at the land sports field where we learned each llama’s name and a little bit about their temperament. We took the llamas for a walk, pet them, and fed them some hay. The girls also ran with the llamas, racing them across the grassy field. It was great fun to be this close to them, to even give them a hug. Of course, we took lots of photos trying to capture how excited the girls were about the experience. After all, how often do you get to hang out with llama? It was an unexpected thrill for most everyone.

llama sitting with girls

Second Session Highlights Video – Part Two

We have the next example of Robbie Francis of FrancisFilmworks working his filming and editing magic. Robbie was here earlier this week filming, and now we have this wonderful glimpse into life at camp. We love seeing the sweet mood of camp… so much action, so much friendship, and so many happy girls!

My favorite part is the camper yelling “I love camp!” as she flies down the zipline.

Take a look, and let us know what you think.

P.S. If you missed last week’s video, here it is.

Love Hiking at Camp

Hiking has always been a part of Rockbrook’s culture. It’s been one of the main activities girls have enjoyed here for now more than 100 years. Our founder, Nancy Carrier, grew up in this part of western North Carolina exploring its forests, visiting its waterfalls, and climbing the nearby mountains. Being at camp, therefore, meant for her that everyone here would get to know this area, and personally experience all the beauty and wonder it offers. This meant hiking. Today still, this means getting out into the forest and walking among the large trees and immersing ourselves in its rich ecosystem.

Everyday at camp there are opportunities for girls to do a bit of hiking. One of our regular activities, WHOA, which stand for “Wilderness Hiking Outdoor Adventure,” always includes hiking, usually as short trips here on the camp property. There are two popular destinations for these hikes. The first is Rockbrook Falls. This is a multi-tiered waterfall formed by Dunn’s Creek as it tumbles down on the western part if the property. The girls follow a trail that parallels the aqueduct that carries water from Dunn’s Creek to the Rockbrook lake, eventually making it to an old bridge that’s the perfect place to view the falls.

The other popular hiking destination on the camp property is even more dramatic: Castle Rock. It’s the large outcropping of granite high above the camp, the top of which provides an awesome 180-degree view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. You can imagine, the trail leading to the top is steep and winding as it climbs about 600 feet in elevation. But it’s worth it! Generations of Rockbrook girls have hiked that steep trail to enjoy the spectacular view.

hidden waterfall hike

Yesterday, I took a big group of CAs (9th graders) hiking to another, more remote, part of the camp property. We hiked to find the elusive “Kilroy’s cabin,” an old, now dilapidated wooden structure, where a camp legend says a hermit lived, but tragically also died after accidentally murdering his true love, a beautiful, red-haired nurse. Intriguing, I know! It’s particularly challenging to find this cabin because now there is no trail leading to it. Instead, reaching it requires bushwhacking— crawling through bushes, ducking around trees, avoiding briars, sliding down slopes, and navigating by topography. This makes for slow going, especially with a large group, but it also means interacting more with all the rich nature around you, touching more, smelling more, and noticing so much, much more. Inevitably, this is a hike where we all get wet and muddy, sweaty and sometimes scraped up a bit. It’s both challenging and hilarious for the girls.

In addition to these hikes on the camp property, we often take campers hiking in the nearby Pisgah National Forest and Dupont State Forest. Miles of trails and scenic destinations are available in these forests, and here too, Rockbrook girls have been exploring them for years.

girls waterfall swimming

Today, I took the Hi-Ups (10th graders) hiking in Dupont to visit High Falls. This 150-ft tall waterfall is formed by the Little River, and is one of the largest waterfalls in the area. It’s a particularly fun destination because you can swim in the pool of water at the bottom. So we came prepared (swimsuits, water shoes and towels), and had a great time swimming up into the whitewater and even sliding down a gently sloping section of the rock. This too is an intense adventure experience, maneuvering over slick rocks, swimming through cold water, and feeling the crashing waterfall on their backs. It was also relaxing at times, just hanging out on the rocks soaking in the power of this huge waterfall.

We are fortunate to have so many wonderful hiking opportunities at Rockbrook. With so much to explore, from some of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River to the hundreds of waterfalls nearby, it’s easy to be amazed when hiking in this area. It’s easy for Rockbrook girls to love hiking.

waterfall gril campers
bushwhack camp girls

Eggs-traordinary Fun in Curosty!

Greetings from the Curosty cabin! I’m Naomi, this summer’s weaving specialist. Curosty, a regional term for “know-how”, is home to our fiber arts activities with weaving and basketry taught inside, and knitting, cross stitch, embroidery, crochet, and sewing outside on the porch in another activity, Needlecraft, taught by specialist Cindy.

Curosty Weaving Cabin
Curosty Weaving Cabin Interior

Stepping inside Curosty is like stepping back in time. Passing the thin, weathered log benches against each side of the door and beneath the crocheted cardinal and community frame loom, you push hard on the heavy wooden door, stiff from years of warm summers and afternoon showers. Dappled light greets you through cheerful red and white gingham curtains above the paned cottage windows, falling on the large floor looms and smaller tabletop ones waiting to be put to work by campers’ hands. Later in the day, when the sun through the branches is just right, a prism scatters the warm light into streaks of rainbows across the looms, the tables, and the campers as they work.

Years of handmade baskets, weavings, woven purses and belts decorate the ancient rough hewn walls (some still with faint markings from when the cabin was disassembled) and the perennial favorite potholders hang like festive garlands above the windows. Baskets and woven work adorn the mantlepiece of the thick stone fireplace, a spinning wheel at the ready on the hearthstone, the smoky evidence of the warmth of many years painting its interior black. You follow your ears and walk through to the back door, swinging it open to reveal the calming rush of the creek, the gurgling of cool water off the porch as sunlight casts rhododendron leaf shadows on the mossy gray rocks. Taking a seat at the glossy red benches, it’s the perfect place to sew, embroider, or crochet your way to peace.

curosty weaving cabin

I asked my class of Middlers the other day how they would describe Curosty. “Homey.” “Rustic.” “A fairytale cottage like the one in Little Red Riding Hood.” Smelling of “wood” and “wood shavings.” “Dust.” And “New string but dusty.” More than 200 years old, this 19th century log cabin has seen many lives. Found abandoned by Williamson Creek in Brevard, Curosty was added to Rockbrook during its fourth year in 1924. Then it was the Camp Headquarters, aka “The Q.” The August 1924 edition of the Carrier Pigeon describes the cabin:

“For more than a hundred years it withstood the forces of nature on Williamson’s Creek, just before the opening this year it was taken down, each log numbered and reassembled […] Here we hope it will stand another century, a model of the artistry with which our fathers built their pioneer homes.”

The Chicken Club

But not all is ancient and unchanged inside these well-loved walls. With such a variety of fiber crafts to make, one can never predict what new project campers invent or what is going to trend. Remember those potholders I mentioned hanging from the walls and windows? The ones that maybe you made yourself as a child? They have risen in great popularity due to the hatching of: The Chicken Club! Wanting an opportunity for the craft-loving campers to be announced for an accomplishment like those who get bullseyes in archery and riflery or bounces in tennis, we combined the skills of Curosty and Needlecraft (with a nod to our beloved feathered friends in Garden Art) to challenge campers with the task of turning potholders into chickens. A project idea found in a Klutz “Potholders & Other Loops Projects” book, campers must first weave a potholder, grab a skein of yarn to crochet a border of looped chains to keep the potholder loops from unweaving, fold their potholder in half into a triangle, and then crochet the sides closed for stuffing by “jumping” the loops of each layer through one another. Then campers are free to put their unique spin on their creations, bringing their chickens to life with tails, feet, wings, combs, and the fan favorite, googly eyes!

henry carrier chickens
H.P. Clarke

After one chicken, made all on their own, campers officially become part of “The Coop.” But campers are not stopping at one chicken, oh no. Five chickens and they earn the title of “Farmer” in honor of founder Nancy Carrier’s father, Henry P. Clarke, known in his time as a “gentleman farmer.” Ten chickens and they’ll be dubbed “Poultry Prince,” “Princess,” or “Regent,” earning a tiny chicken charm. So far this session we have two Farmers in our midst — senior camper Toby and Hi-Up Ty — pecking their way to poultry royalty.

Fair weather or fowl, campers are flocking to Curosty to see what everyone’s clucking about!

By Naomi Penner and Melody Parish

kids holding woven chickens

More Powerful than You Think

After our late night 4th of July fireworks show yesterday, a crew of girls and their counselors woke up early this morning to go on a whitewater rafting trip at the Nantahala River. It was a 6:30am wake up and 7am departure event for us. A quick bowl of cereal and some yogurt still left most everyone pretty groggy for the drive over. It’s about a 2-hour drive to the river, which gave folks a chance to doze in the bus. When we arrived, our Rockbrook guides had the equipment staged and ready, so the girls could hop out of the bus, apply some sunscreen and gear up with their PFDs, paddles and white helmets.

summer camp rafting kids

The weather was perfect for rafting. The morning fog burned off to bright, bright sun, which felt great compared to the cold, cold water of the Nantahala. There were six boats in the crew this morning. They bopped and bumped down the river, navigating around the rocks to follow the best lines through the rapids. The river alternates between fun splashy whitewater and more calm stretches where the girls can chat and mess around in the boats. There’s always a discussion of some sort happening… maybe about the river, or about what pose to make for the camera, or just the regular banter of camp friends having fun together.

The last rapid is where the most intense action happens. It’s a class III rapid called the “Nantahala Falls” and is a fun double drop that is guaranteed to bounce around your boat, and even toss out a person or two. Today, we had a couple swimmers, but after the excitement of being in the water, they were easily pulled back into their boats.

The whole crew enjoyed a picnic lunch with the second (afternoon) rafting group that arrived from camp right on time. Our excellent weather held nicely throughout the afternoon, making this second trip also a great success. Rafting is really an ideal summer camp activity. It’s exciting, a little adventurous, highly social, cool on a hot summer day, and very fun every time you do it, whether it’s your first or your fifth time. Everyone, guides and campers alike, had a great time on the water today.

Yes, the experience of rafting is fun, but I think there’s an even deeper benefit to be gained from it, something that can serve as a life lesson of sorts, or at least a moment when an insight can be realized. There’s a hint of it during the pre-trip safety talk Ruby, the head guide, gives to everyone. She says things like, “everyone in your boat has to power to save anyone who falls out. Yes, even you can save your guide!” She explains how this is done too, how a small girl can grab the PFD of the guide and pull that adult back into the boat. Yes, this has happened (pretty often!), much to the amazement of the girls involved.

girl rafting crew
silly rafting girls

There are a couple of possible lessons here:

Despite this being a risky activity (someone might fall out), we can manage the risk and still carry on. We have good equipment, protocols and techniques that we trust will work if needed. Knowing these, we can be more confident when facing this particular risk. Instead of not rafting, instead of shrinking away from it because it’s a little scary or uncertain, we can rely on expertise and even our own nerve in a situation. Like many times in life when we’re afraid of what might happen, there are probably steps we can take to reduce the risks at hand. There is probably more we can learn and concrete things we can do to reduce the likelihood of something undesirable happening. Experiences like this help kids grow more confident in situations they find scary. These camp moments prove they can manage those feelings and still more forward.

Related to this is another lesson. Rescuing someone, pulling them back into the boat or reaching out to a swimmer using your paddle, proves to these girls, “you’re more powerful than you think.” This is another one of my phrases I use to encourage kids. I think they need to be reminded of this as much as possible. After all, so much of their experience is the opposite. They’re often told, explicitly or implicitly, they’re “just kids.” Grownups do so much for them, ostensibly because they need help. They’re not allowed to do so many things, apparently because they’re unable to “handle it.” Taken too far, kids can become kind of helpless, always looking for an adult to do things for them, soon believing they’re incapable of “taking care of it” on their own. Rafting is different. Here they’re told “we’re counting on you to save people,” “here’s how you do it,” and “you can do it.” And they do! So for rafting, instead of assuming “I can’t,” there’s proof that you can.

This is a great thing for kids to learn. Even if they’re not always successful, I think it’s a good habit to feel empowered in situations, and to know that you can learn how to handle things, even those that seem scary. The lesson is to learn more in those situations and to manage risks as well as possible, and with good reasons, to lean in. My hope is that Rockbrook girls learn some of these lessons. I hope they can remember they’re more powerful than they think.

whitewater rafting splash

Shockingly Patriotic

Camp is always a place of celebration, but since today was the 4th of July, we had another reason to kick things up a bit and make the day special.

4th of July summer camp horses

It started right away, even a bit before the rising bell, when eight riding staff members, dressed in their best red, white and blue, rode horses up into camp. They had the horses painted and dressed as well. On cue, they rode up and down the cabin lines yelling “The British are coming! Wake up! Wake up!” (a reference to Paul Revere’s ride in April of 1775). Hoofbeats in the morning! Hearing all this and still dressed in their pajamas, the girls stumbled out onto the hill for a flag raising ceremony led by the Hi-Ups. Everyone also recited the Pledge of Allegiance and sleepily sang “America the Beautiful.”

At breakfast, the campers were met by a second blast of red, white and blue decorations. The dining hall had streamers, posters (one read, “We love Betsy Ross!”) and ribbons hung in every direction. We set out red, white and blue head bands, stickers, glitter and temporary tattoos on all the tables. It seemed like most of the campers were happy to take advantage of the tattoos! Combined with their own festive costumes and accessories, we had a shockingly patriotic color scheme going on. Singing in the dining hall picked up the theme too, with the girls belting out versions of “Yankee Doodle,” “Your a Grand Old Flag,” and Katy Perry’s “Firework.”

The day was mostly filled with the girls attending their regular activities. Flashes of red, white and blue appeared all around camp— climbing the alpine tower, weaving baskets in the creek, shooting riflery, and riding horses at the riding center, for example. The muffin flavor of the day was “Firework Funfetti.” During the first free swim time before lunch, about 30 or so counselors and campers ran a 2-mile course around camp: the “Firecracker Run.” Also during that free swim period, the lifeguards held a greased watermelon relay race. The team that won enjoyed cracking open the watermelon and eating it afterwards.

We served dinner on the hill, a yummy supper of Rick’s barbecue chicken (and tempeh), homemade potato salad, coleslaw, and watermelon. We don’t ordinarily serve soft drinks at camp, but for tonight’s special occasion we offered the girls each a can of Cheerwine, kept cold in the creek in front of the Goodwill cabin. For dessert it was blondie cookie bars with red, white and blue (again!) icing decoration.

The evening event was hilarious— an all-camp color run and slip-n-slide! This had the girls change into their swimsuits and come down to the grassy landsports field. There, the counselors set up an obstacle course that challenged the girls to run through the course while having colorful powder thrown at you. Of course, the real goal was to be hit by the colored powder and get messy. For the slip-n-slide, our property manager Richie brought over a firetruck (He’s the Assistant Chief of our fire district.) and used the hose to keep everything wet and slippery. We had music playing, which added to the wild and crazy feeling of the event. You’ve never seen such exuberance! One camper told me, “I love this!” Being that messy, laughing that hard, slipping and sliding with friends… it was a one of a kind experience.

As night fell, the finale of the day was our own fireworks show. Casey was ready with glow sticks for all the girls and a fun playlist of music to blast during the show. For the next 30 minutes, we all enjoyed another dance party, as the girls twirled their glow sticks, sang along to the music and cheered with every sparkling blast in the air.

It’s hard to beat a day like this with so much celebration, with one exciting surprise after another. When you have all these great people having this much crazy fun, I can’t think of a better way to spend the 4th of July.

summer camp fireworks show