The Surprise of Camp

After the excitement and intense celebration of the banquet last night, the mood shifted for our closing campfire. This “Spirit Fire” has been a tradition at Rockbrook for its more than 100 year long history. It is a special time to celebrate each session by gathering around a campfire to reflect a little about camp, to sing a few special songs, and to mark our time together with a shared candlelight ceremony. With everyone dressed in their red and white uniforms, complete with red ties for campers, we fan out across the low wooden benches around the campfire area near the lake. All of the campers, counselors and directors fit snuggly in that space, shoulder to shoulder, all focused on the great fire lit up front.

girl camp true friends

The program features several traditional songs that are perhaps a little less silly or raucous and a little more serious or significant. We sing “In the Heart of a Wooded Mountain,” for example, which we call the “camp song.” It describes Rockbrook as a “fairyland of beauty where friendships so true are born.” We sing “How Did We Come to Meet Pal,” a song that reminds us that camp teaches “the meaning of the real worth of friendship born to last.” Another favorite song we sing at Spirit Fire is called “The Streams and the Mountains.” It has a nice waltz beat and cheerful melody as it evokes the feeling of camp, “a special place for which we yearn.”

The most interesting part of the event is the speeches given by campers of all ages and a few staff members. These short reflections about camp weave between songs, and are interesting because they reveal how the speakers feel about camp, funny details of their experience and what Rockbrook means to them.

girl camp best friends

Tonight I noticed a theme of sorts running through several of the Spirit Fire speeches. One camper described how she was at first very nervous coming to camp, especially not knowing anyone already attending. After a few days, though, she was surprised how quickly she began to make friends and feel comfortable. Another camper said she was surprised to find Rockbrook people so “friendly and nice.” A first-time counselor found herself surprised how much fun she was having at her summer job. Several campers described how their camp friends were surprisingly closer than their friends at home. One 4-week camper said she was surprised how quickly her session went by.

All of these speakers, you see, talked about being surprised by some aspect of their camp experience. They were pleasantly surprised by Rockbrook. Their worries turned out to be unfounded. They actually made friends easily, were comfortable at camp, found nice people, and had plenty of fun. They found that initial jitters didn’t last, and hiccups were only temporary. It’s hard to believe that camp can be this different, this much better than their non-camp lives, but it is. Surprise!

campers on their final night at camp

Again, many of us found ourselves sniffling and choking up a bit during the speeches, especially when the speakers themselves became emotional. Each reminder that this was our last night together this session made those emotions even more powerful. Each time someone said Rockbrook felt like home, we would hear echoes of soft whimpers.

The Spirit Fire program ends with everyone sharing part of the campfire by lighting a small white candle. Sarah and the other directors first light their candle from the fire, and then pass it along to each camper’s and staff member’s candle. Everyone then forms a circle around the lake facing the water. It’s a beautiful moment to see how strong the spirit of Rockbrook is among everyone there.

Now we have to say goodbye until next summer. We leave a little stronger and more confident, more comfortable at camp, and knowing that this haven in the “heart of a wooded mountain” will always be our home. It’s been an amazing session, one that we will all remember fondly.

summer camp candle ceremony


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