Yesterday a longtime camp dad who was curious about how camp was going asked me, “how is camp different this summer?” He meant that given the lasting effects of the pandemic and continuing COVID restrictions, are there significant differences from previous years?
Well sure… like all things, some aspects are the same, and some are different.
Probably the biggest difference this summer is how we are scheduling our in-camp daily activities. We are rotating through the various options as cabin groups instead of individually. Following guidance from the state health department, we are spending the majority of our day in these groups (“cohorts”). Everyone in the cabin will ride the ziplines together, make a tie-dye t-shirt together, and learn archery together. Such togetherness! You can imagine this challenges the girls to work on their inter-personal skills, to be better communicators, and at times to compromise. The counselors are aware that this summer will require them to focus a bit more on group dynamics making sure everyone is heard and respected, equally included in the cabin’s activities, whether that be clearing the table after meals or gathering up towels and sunscreen for a trip to the lake, for example. In one cabin there are bound to be messy girls and neat girls, those who are always ready and those who tend to be late, some that instinctively pitch in to help and some who are in their own world. Yet despite these differences, and the potential frustration they can cause at times, the girls handle this togetherness well. They adapt to the quirks of others, and learn to express their frustration kindly if things get too tough. Of course, the more time spent together, these girls are becoming closer friends with the others in their cabin. All that shared experience is building mutual understanding and care. I hope you got a sense of that from yesterday’s video. All the hugs, cracking up hilarity, and easy breezy conversation follows naturally among friends this good. Of course, this special bonding among camp friends happens every summer, but this year I suspect it will be even more pronounced among bunkmates.
Another difference this summer is where we are eating our meals. We knew that our ordinary dining hall experience wouldn’t allow us to keep our cohorts properly distanced, so this past winter and spring we made significant expansions to two porches, one on the dining hall and the other on the hillside lodge. This has allowed us to split where our age groups eat their meals (creating “neighborhoods”), and to have about two thirds of the camp eat outdoors (the remaining third eats inside the open-air screened dining hall). Admittedly, this has created logistical challenges; serving the food, bussing the tables, making announcements, cleaning larger areas are all more difficult. But with help from the CITs and the Hi-Ups, the kitchen staff has done an amazing job keeping us fed. Where we are sitting is new, but we still enjoy made-from-scratch meals, freshly baked muffins everyday, and the fun group dining experience of singing camp songs between bites.
We are also having all camp picnics on the hill more often. Tonight’s dinner is a good example: charcoal-grilled burgers (or an “Impossible” plan-based option), all the fix-in’s like lettuce, tomato, pickles, cheese, a side tossed salad, with hand-cut, oven-roasted fries. The kitchen crew cut more than 150 pounds of potatoes to have enough for everyone! There was even a homemade “oat bar” for dessert. There’s a reason girls love the food at Rockbrook.
Speaking of dessert, we surprised the girls after lunch today by having an ice cream party out on the hill. Affectionately known as the “Biltmore Train,” this is a long tradition at Rockbrook where the girls can indulge in several ice cream cones on a warm summer day. And today was exactly that: a beautiful sunny day, breezy and with very low humidity. The girls split into their age groups and lined up in three areas of the hill as counselors scooped and scooped for about an hour. Two or three cones later, you can imagine that the girls were quite, shall we say, “energetic” as they headed to their afternoon activities.
By the way, I don’t talk much about the weather in these posts. But if you are curious about what’s happening, you can check our Rockbrook weather station. It’s located on the roof of the office, and measures temperature, humidity, precipitation, etc., and through Weather Underground, provides a forecast as well.
For about 60 campers, the rest of the evening took them into the Pisgah National Forest for a ride down the famous Sliding Rock. Once again, going after hours was delightful. With our own lifeguards on duty, the girls and their counselors were able to slide 2 or 3 times before it was too dark to continue, though honestly I think they would have kept going if we let them. Screams and cheers, the splash of cold whitewater, and a dramatic plunge into the pool at the bottom— a night a Sliding Rock is full-on camp excitement.
So are things different at camp this summer? Yes and no. How we change activities, where we eat our meals, some of the logistics of trips and special events, plus new daily health checks, mask wearing under certain situations, and extra cleaning, are all different. Much still remains the same too: living immersed in this beautiful natural environment, being active everyday, developing social skills, having time to play, being independent, and growing more confident. Rockbrook is still a unique place where girls feel so at ease their authentic selves blossom, and being true like that helps them forge the most incredible bonds of friendship. All the best stuff about camp, the most important and lasting stuff, clearly remains.