Becoming Someone New

Deep Breath...On this first day of activities—the first full day of camp—I am reminded that camp is more than just a chance to retreat from the rigors of the “real world,” to have some mindless fun and excitement, and to make new friends and reconnect with old ones. Camp is a place in which campers can become someone new every single day.

Downward DogMost of the 207 girls assembled here at Rockbrook this session wear some pretty standard labels for most of the year: student, daughter, sister, class president, team captain, honor roll student, and the like. They will belong to categories like these for a while, before growing up, and gaining some more exciting ones like lawyer, doctor, engineer.

This, of course, is all in the normal course of events.

Kayak Race!What camp does, is give girls a chance to don a whole host of other identities that most people never get to try. In just one day, I have seen the school-girls who were dropped off here yesterday morph into markswomen, mountain climbers, equestrians, basket-weavers, yogis, archers, and more.

Spider-Man DropI heard them swapping stories at lunch and during free swims. Giving each other tips on which side of the Alpine Tower makes for the best climb, as though they have been climbing for their whole lives and not just one morning. Boasting cheerfully about getting their wet-exits in kayaking on the very first day. Showing their cabin-mates the first steps of the dance that they will be premiering in the dance show at the end of the session.

Soaking the ReedsA Junior spent about five minutes this afternoon, explaining to me exactly how long the reeds needed to soak in the stream before they would be pliable enough to make a basket. She had never made a basket before. She was repeating to me what she had heard the instructor say just minutes before. But, in her mind, she was an expert, a basket-weaving professional, when an hour before she had been nothing of the kind.

Perfect FormEvery day, every hour, almost, these campers get to try something new, become something different, and expand a little more. By the end of the session, they might decide that they never again want to be an archer, or a climber, or a basket-weaver—but the hope is that, through all of this experimenting, they will leave here with a bit more of the confidence that it takes to become the varied and interesting women that they will one day grow to be.

A Simple Costume

Camp To-Do List

Like most adults these days, I bet you have a pretty extensive To-Do list. You might even have several, or maybe the opposite, something reminiscent that you keep in your head to guide what you chose to get done at any one moment. Whether it’s kept on scraps of paper or trusted to software, we adults, apparently by virtue of our responsibilities, need to remember to get things done. We feel the need to make progress, to accomplish, and achieve. “Checking things off our list” seems to be how we live our lives (at least most of the time).

Now, after only a few days of camp this session, it struck me today how foreign that sentiment is for the girls here at Rockbrook. Sure, we “get things done” at camp too, but it’s somehow different. None of the campers seem concerned with “productivity” or very interested in “marking it done.” Instead, they happily float from activity period to free time, from meals to special events, all while singing, chatting and laughing with each other. It’s marvelous to see just how carefree everyone is.

Blond girl shooting rifle at summer camp Camp gymnastics activity Camp Bracelet Friends

Trying to put my finger on it, I think the girls have discovered the joy of doing things for their own sake. They have learned how to do things simply for the fun of it. Rockbrook provides the encouragement and in some ways the permission to do just that— to try new things, to be silly, to experiment, and to explore, all in the name of having fun. With almost 30 different activities to choose from, it’s easy to do too: shoot a .22 caliber rifle, jump off the mini trampoline, tie a macramé bracelet from parachute cord, launch into the lake from the water slide, bop a teatherball, leap into a ballet position… And so many more. It can be almost anything.

Camp Rockbrook water slide Girl Smiling teatherball Girl dance move at camp

Maybe we can say that Rockbrook girls have a different sort of to-do list. They  actually do many things at camp, whatever these might be (and again, it doesn’t seem to matter which), but these are not tasks to be completed, or steps that lead to some external goal. Odd as it sounds, a camp to-do list really has only one item on it, and it’s the same for all of us, no matter how we spend our day. We do it everyday at camp, and that’s simply to have fun.

Girls playing cards at slumber partyTonight’s Twilight was a new event that opened up all the camp stone lodges for three different slumber parties. Dressed in their pajamas, the girls chose between a dance party, spa party, or a board game party for the evening. We had music, served hot chocolate along with our regular milk and cookies, and enjoyed dancing and playing. The girls also brought their crazy creek chairs, sleeping bags, pillows and stuffed animals to make comfortable spots to sleep. Most everyone stayed up a little later than usual playing with flashlights and whispering to their friends nearby, but the evening was a great success.

All This Action

What an absolutely perfect camp day! Completely sunny weather, a beautiful forest setting— the massive rocks, old-growth trees, flowering mountain laurels, cool creeks and waterfalls, ferns, and so many wonderful birds, and so on! —cheerful, encouraging counselors, and the energy of all these great campers, combined to set the day. Then, with dozens of different activities all happening simultaneously, the camp was alive everywhere with happy smiling girls.

Horseback Riding GirlLake Jump KidMost of our 28 horses met their newest fans while they walked, trotted and cantered around the horseback riding rings. The pottery wheels spun, the looms clicked, while rifles and arrows shot. Sequences of knots became friendship bracelets, and yoga mats lay flat for stretching and relaxing poses. Dots of paint, strips of tape, vibrant dyes and patterns of string decorated paper and cloth. Belay ropes led climbers up the Alpine Tower, and kayak skirts stretched tightly over our colorful whitewater boats. With bright blue skies above, the diving board, waterside, and lake toys kept girls happily splashing and delightfully cool. So much action!

Archery Camp GirlBe sure to get a sense of all this action by spending some time browsing through the photo galleries posted for today. Have you seen them? You access the galleries by logging into your parent account. If you haven’t logged in yet, I think you’ll love the new way the system displays our photos. Each day there are several albums to view, enjoy and share by email or on Facebook. If you see particular photos of your daughter, or others that you like, go ahead and add those to your “Favorites” so you can see them all together at the end of the session. Also, I would suggest checking back often because we are uploading photos multiple times every day!

Rafting Camp FunOver at the Nantahala River today, there was even more outdoor adventure action because almost 60 campers took a trip down in rafts. Led by our team of experienced rafting guides (Clyde, who has more than 30 years of experience, along with Andria and Leland Davis, Nicole, Jamie and Thea), two groups of campers enjoyed bouncing and splashing through the rapids, like Patton’s Run, Delbar’s Rock, the Quarry Rapid, and the exciting Nantahala Falls (also known as “Lesser Wesser”) at the end. Rafting with Rockbrook girls is a little like a floating party, often pretty loud with singing and powerful screams, sometimes involving dancing and acrobatics (like falling into the river!), but always a complete blast because you’re laughing with your friends at every bump of the river.

Dinner tonight brought out the costumes —the first of many opportunities to dress up this session— with the campers and counselors dressing as superheroes. Sure we had Batman, Superman and Captain America to name a few, but we also saw Captain Underpants, Caped Vowels, and several versions of Wonder Woman. The dining hall was filled with strong, powerful, extraordinary woman, all super in different ways. More than that, we also made dinner tonight a celebration of everyone’s birthday by rearranging the tables so we could sit grouped according to our birth month. This mixed cabins to make tables with both younger and older new friends to meet, and, perhaps most importantly, with whom to share a homemade, highly decorated, birthday cake. With songs and shout-outs to different celebrities’ birth months (for example, “Happy Birthday Taylor Swift!”), we kept the whole meal lively, and definitely a little silly. It really was a blast.

Camp Costume Girls

Embracing the Weird

A parent asked me recently what it is about Rockbrook that makes it so special–what it is that has their daughter coming home year after year happier, more confident, and more comfortable with herself and her quirks.

So Excited!I rambled a bit in response, and gave some rote answer about the strength of our community, and our encouraging of independence, and the surprising bits of spontaneity in our schedule that keep the campers on their toes.

The parent nodded along as though satisfied with my answer, but as I thought about the conversation more and more over the next few days, I became more and more dissatisfied with it. It’s not that all those things I mentioned aren’t true–they are, and they are wonderful facets of camp life. But they are not the heart of what makes Rockbrook special. I’ve been thinking for days now, trying to distill all of the magic and wonder of camp down into one phrase that sums it all up. One phrase that explains why everything about camp means so much to so many people.

I don’t know if such a phrase even exists, but I think I’ve come up with a contender: here at Rockbrook, we embrace the weird.

GotchaIt isn’t so much that we make people weirder exactly; it’s that we provide a place where kids can let their inner-weirdness shine. They spend so much time at school, struggling to be thought of as normal, and learning from their peers that their differences and quirks aren’t something to be celebrated, but rather something to be suppressed. Often it seems that, despite the efforts of all the people who see and love their beautiful eccentricities, children (and especially teenagers) teach themselves to imitate “normalcy.” The logic seems to be that if they look and act like everyone else, their uniformity might earn them acceptance.

The beauty of camp, I think, is that we not only appreciate each other’s differences, we downright celebrate them. The girls that earn the biggest cheers in the Dining Hall aren’t the ones with their hair done up in the latest style, and their makeup done just right: they’re the girls wearing giant banana costumes for no particular reason, and singing a rousing rendition of “Banana Phone” into the microphone during announcements. The girls who begin the fashion trends at camp aren’t the ones sporting RayBans or the coolest swimsuits–they’re the ones that discover that tie-dyed knee socks and duct-tape headbands are without a doubt the most fabulous things since sliced bread.

Makeshift MaskMost importantly, the ringleaders in the cabin are not the girls who think they have to be catty to impress people–it’s the class clowns, the includers, and the girls who can make even the most boring day fun and interesting who steal the show.

If a girl doesn’t want to be weird, though–if she doesn’t feel comfortable being the only person in the room wearing a chocolate-chip cookie costume–that’s just fine. No one will think she’s boring or, well, weird for not being weird. She can be the person whom she feels most comfortable being, while still learning to love the weirdness of others. Learning to appreciate the eccentricities of others is just as important as learning to express your own, and that’s a skill that is honed here every day.

I don’t know if this phrase is the winner. Maybe it isn’t our love of weirdness that makes Rockbrook what it is–I’m sure the truth of the matter is something much more indefinable. But I know that it’s the quality that has meant the most to me in my time here. It was here that I first learned that it was okay to be a tomboy, okay to have a laugh that is louder than everybody else’s, and okay to spend most of my free time daydreaming about getting my letter to Hogwarts.

No, camp taught me that these qualities were more than just “okay.” They were the parts of myself that I should be proudest of.

What's That?

 

The Simple Things

Last night, we held my without-a-doubt favorite event of each session: the shaving cream fight. It is an event at which girls leave their manners in the cabin, put aside all their instincts that demand that they stay clean and orderly, and give no thought to the rules–because there aren’t any.

Sneak AttackGot ya!Messy and HappyWatch out!The Latest StyleThis event is camp’s equivalent of giving a child an expensive gift for her birthday, only to have her play with the empty box for the next month or so. We spend a lot of time and energy putting on elaborate events for the kids throughout the session. And they do enjoy them–but nothing can quite equal the utter, visceral joy of being handed a bottle of shaving cream, and told to just go nuts.

Something about the simplicity of it all–pick up shaving cream, shake can, spray onto as many people as you can, get as messy as possible–lends itself to a beautiful sort of mindlessness. There’s no goal that you must reach, no way to win or lose, and, most importantly of all, no fear that someone might judge you for looking like a walking marshmallow. There is only the can in your hand, the grass between your toes, and the grin on your face.

It’s the simple pleasures such as this one that I believe is camp’s greatest gift to campers. Too often in the real world (and yes, sometimes even in the camp world), we overlook the tiny things in the world around us that can bring us joy. We are too intent on the big picture, on making this world and our lives exactly what we want them to be, to stop and focus on the details that are of no real use to anybody, but still can chance our lives and make them more beautiful. We tend to miss the trees for the forest.

Take the campers I saw in the lake yesterday, swimming back and forth, intent on finishing their mermaid laps in time to get the Dolly’s trip prize. Would there have been any real harm done if they had stopped their swimming, and floated silently in the sunshine for the rest of Free Swim? What about the camper I talked to a few days ago, trying to race through “Hamlet” before the end of camp, so that she would have time to write her report when she got home? What if she had forgotten the deadline, and taken a few moments to slow down and appreciate the mellifluous rhythms of Shakespeare’s language?

But I know it’s not that easy. Of course everyone would prefer to slow down and appreciate the little things, but the big things feel too important, too pressing to ignore even for a moment. Stopping to smell the roses feels like a luxury that simply cannot be afforded.

But at camp, thank goodness, that particular luxury comes cheaper. Camp gives both campers and staff the chance to slow down and focus the significantly less important, and more joyous, things. Of course there are still moments, even at camp, when we too get caught up in the big picture. The completion of mermaid laps, the execution of the perfect skit, the nitty gritty and ins and outs of the daily schedule, even the completion of a blog post–all of these things can draw our eyes away from the joys all around us.

Which is why the shaving cream fight, and other camp events and activities like it, are so important. They strip down our priorities and interests into those that are most vital to our happiness. They train us to look past the things that seem important, and focus on the quieter things that really are. Put more simply, they allow all of us–camper, counselor, and director–to just slow down for a minute and remember what it feels like to just be kids.

Crazy About Activities

Horseback Riding CamperHorsback Riding ChildLet’s not forget about riding! Down through the tunnel and on the level pastures near the river, girls are working with horses every activity period. Most are taking mounted riding lessons and learning to post (rising and falling rhythmically in the saddle) while their horse is trotting, or to balance and sit properly while in a canter. A few more advanced riders are working on jumping low rails, while the first-time riding girls are excited to get their horses to walk. This morning, during the second activity period, and despite the cloudy cool weather, there were four lessons happening simultaneously.  Later, other girls who had signed up for the “Stable Club” spent their activity period bathing and brushing two of our veteran Connemara ponies, Annie and Danny. Kelsi and the whole riding staff are keeping all our “horse crazy” girls at Rockbrook happily busy.

Child Swimming at summer campChild Wall Rock ClimbingThe Rockbrook Lake, like the riding center, is another part of camp that is a favorite for many girls. We might call them “water crazy,” but again, even in less that ideal weather (i.e. more cool than hot, I’d say) you can count on a group of campers ready to jump of the diving board, zip down the water slide, swim “Mermaid Laps,” or just float around in a tube.  Dunn’s Creek, the mountain stream that feeds our lake, keeps the water temperature quite “refreshing,” so it takes a real zeal be wet on a regular basis. My guess is that for these girls, the water temperature is trivial compared the thrills the lake has to offer. Like they say, “You get used to it!”

The “climbing crazy” girls at Rockbrook have many opportunities to satisfy their appetite as well. Instead of one area, though, they have three places on the camp property where they can tighten their harness, buckle their helmet, and tie into a belay rope. They can climb our 50-ft Alpine tower choosing any one of its many different elements, work out on the climbing wall in our gym, maybe learning to “stem” (stretch to two wide footholds) in the corner, or get out on Castle Rock to hop on “Whim,” “Wham” or “Bam,” three of the most popular routes of there. Each of these climbing areas offers a range of challenges keeping our climbers coming back for more.

Of course, there are not just horse, water and climbing crazy girls at Rockbrook. There are girls keen about crafts, sports, and drama too. There are tennis girls and nature girls, kayakers and hikers. With almost 30 different daily activities at camp, most everyone has a favorite, and if given the chance, will spend extra time pursuing their preference. While more true for some camp activities than others (e.g., the ones mentioned above), it is possible, in other words, for campers to focus their choices even as our sign up system encourages them to explore a variety. As they switch activity selections every three days, have regular options for adventure trips, and fill 3 blocks of free time each day, campers can find, if they desire it, a good balance of diversity and emphasis in how they spend their day at camp. It’s possible to be excited about all your activities at Rockbrook, and a little crazy about some as well.

Camp Teen Girl Friends

A Single Afternoon

Emily’s made another short video, this time focusing on some of the fun packed into a single afternoon at Rockbrook. Take a look!

A Swarm of Smiles

Summer camp horseback riding girl

With so much going on at camp and with so many people involved, all simultaneously, it’s astonishing to add it all up. While some girls are screaming as they fly by on the zipline, others are silently stretching into yoga poses listening to quiet flute music. As floor looms click back and forth slowing revealing their weaving patterns, pottery wheels spin splattering mud when a bowl forms in the exact center. One girl rides a horse and another the water slide. Campers shoot bows and arrows, as well as .22 caliber rifles. They hit tennis balls with rackets and volleyballs with their fists. As some girls tie a figure-eight into their kernmantle climbing rope, others tie embroidery floss into square knots to make a friendship bracelet. Campers are leaping off the diving board into the lake, while others are jumping on the mini tramp to flip in gymnastics. With plenty of tie dyes, paints, markers, and glitter, we have an army of girls happy to add color to just about anything. In these ways and others, camp is an energetic mass of movement, and an awesome swarm of smiling busy girls.

Junior camp girl shooting archery

Have you written a letter or sent an email or two to your daughter? Here’s some info about the addresses and such, but it’s worth repeating that receiving mail is a big deal at camp. After lunch and just before the girls return to their cabins for Rest Hour, everyone checks their mailboxes. Seeing a card, letter or folded piece of paper (a printed email) is always a nice surprise, and it’s the perfect inspiration for writing a response home! In your letters, tell your girls how you’re proud of what they’re accomplishing at camp, sprinkled with some encouragement to try new things. Pass along lighthearted, upbeat news from home, while trying not to dwell on what she’s missing while away or how much you miss her.  Maybe include one of these kid-friendly jokes written by our own Sofie Ehlinger.  Do you know why the pig was red, for example? He was out all day BACON in the sun! Here is some more good advice about how to write to your kids at camp.  In the end, “Just write!”

Girls camp rafting whitewater rapid

“Hey Middlers! Hey Seniors! Do you want to go whitewater rafting?” That was the question we asked all of the girls on those lines, and perhaps predictably, about 90% of them said “yes,” with some choosing to do even more by camping overnight at Rockbrook’s Nantahala Outpost. These overnight rafting girls drove over on Monday night and had a great time eating dinner, making ‘smores over a campfire, goofing around in the platform cabins (with a package of glow sticks for each cabin making it even cooler), and simply enjoying this “middle of nowhere” campsite. The next morning, the girls hit the water under bright sunny skies, the perfect weather for a trip down the icy Nantahala river. For several of these Middlers it was their first time rafting, yet almost immediately, even before the first named rapid, they were laughing and squealing with delight. The Nantahala provides a nice balance of thrilling rapids with sizable waves and calm spots in the river where the girls can splash each other and even jump out for a brief swim.

I was able to take a little video as a few of our rafts came through the final rapid, the Nantahala Falls (or “Lesser Wesser” as some call it). Have a look and you can see why rafting is HUGE fun!

Our afternoon group of rafters, which was primarily Seniors this time, likewise had an excellent trip with hot sunny weather, and just as much high-pitched fun.

Girls dressed as animals
Dressed a gorilla performance

When we all arrived back at camp, a special event dinner was ramping up, a jungle/animal themed meal we called “A Night at the Zoo.” This was a fun opportunity to dress like your favorite animal and have a dinner party singing jungle and animal songs.  So tonight we had an entire table of cats, a few butterflies, a squid, a platypus, bears, a turtle, several bunnies, a pink panther (Director Sarah!), and a whole school of fish enjoying a meal together. Hamburgers, sweet potato fries, salad and watermelon with chocolate chip cookie bars for dessert… yummy and fun!

After dinner, during our “Twilight” period of free time (before the start of “Evening Program”), several counselors held a “pet show” on the hill where different girls could show off their “pets.” There were dog tricks, and a super strong rabbit, but the funniest was the gorilla who could do cartwheels. It was all pretty silly stuff, and as that, really great as well.

As the sun began to set far off across the distant Blue Ridge Mountains, the lyric painted on the dining hall poster during dinner tonight seemed all the more apt: “But the sun rolling high… Through the sapphire sky… Keeps great and small on the endless round.”