Lost and Found

Camp tetherball buddies

On the bulletin board where announcements are posted, you’ll see the lost and found list. As the name suggests, campers update the list about belongings they have lost or found while at camp. Sometimes the list gets pretty specific (“If anyone sees a sock that is blue with cooked pink shrimp on it, please return it to Middler 6!”), and we read the list aloud frequently to make sure that girls return with everything they came here with. When the list was read today, though, there wasn’t anything on the lost list. In fact, there were only items on the found list. I thought this was beautifully poetic—it represented the ways in which the community was looking out for each other, even before anyone realized they had lost something.

In many ways, this idea seeps into our everyday lives at camp. In coming to camp, we lose things, or more accurately, are without things. We have the basics in our trunk: a flashlight, a book, some clothes, and some friendship bracelet string, but we are without some of the more present items of our existence: our phones, our computers, the familiar environments we are used to. Yet girls come back every year, and daydream about camp all throughout the year. I think that is because they have found so much more at camp than they have lost. They find strength in them that they never knew was there before, they find that they have a lot in common with people from different backgrounds, they find the capacity in them to be giving and authentic—the found list is much longer than the lost list.

zip line kid

Throughout camp, the exchange between lost and found is seen every day. Today, it was announced that there was going to be a zip-lining trip. The zip-line goes throughout the back side of camp, taking girls across waterfalls and through the trees. This trip is generally offered multiple times every day, and is always wildly popular. As this was the first activity day for many girls, today was a particularly popular day to sign up for the trip. Because the trip was so popular, it was impossible to get everyone who wanted to go today on the trip (they’ll definitely have more opportunities to go, though!). A trio of juniors who arrived yesterday were all in line for the trip. When two of them drew cards that meant that they could go, but one of them could not go, the two who were chosen to go on the trip gave up their spaces, saying that they would go another time when their friend could go. This beautifully exemplified this lost and found principle. Even though they lost going on the trip today, they found a way for them all to go together another time. More than that, though, they found a deeper sense of friendship and the joy that comes from being a loyal friend and the maturity that comes with compromising one’s own bliss for the good of others. They gained much more than they lost.

county costume kids

At camp, we see this in other ways too. Sometimes, what we lose is not as tangible as a sock or even a zip-line experience. A lot of the time, it’s our inhibitions and the things that prevent us from having fun and being our true selves. The other day, we were having an evening program called “Jug Band.” Jug Band is an old-fashioned campfire that incorporates Appalachian culture and silliness. Everyone brings an “instrument” (like rocks or brooms) and sings songs such as “Mountain Dew” and “Wagon Wheel.” Jug Band is incredibly fun, but is also incredibly silly. On the night of Jug Band, a middler cabin lacked their usual enthusiasm for the event. They were hesitant about going, and did not want to dress up. Their counselors, however, started playing on instruments (trunks and tennis rackets) and making up songs. Before long, the entire cabin was joining in the fun, creating their own band! By the time they showed up to Jug Band, they were some of the most enthusiastic and spirited campers at the fire.

In their cabin, the band kept practicing and writing new songs. The band’s name was “Saurkraut,” (the spelling is intentional) and tonight during twilight, Saurkraut had their first performance. They created tickets that they handed out to everyone (some of the tickets were even autographed: ‘Saurkraut! Rock out!’) and one of their hit songs was “Do You Jam, Bro?” The band was a hit, and the reviews were raving, “That’s the best thing that’s ever happened at twilight!” When inhibitions were lost, Saurkraut was found. Creativity, a greater sense of community, identity, and the ability to let our hair down—these are the things we find here at camp.

The other thing about lost and found at camp is that we learn to live without the things we have lost. We realize we can live without that sock, that we can thrive without our phones. But when things are found, we gain a new appreciation for them. We want to keep what we’ve found safe, we know it in an entirely different way. I think that’s how the intangibles at camp work, too. We find this authentic version of ourselves, someone who knows how to compromise and get along with others, who seeks the best in others, who isn’t afraid to get her hair wet. When we go home, we have a new appreciation for this version of ourselves, and we live differently, as we continue to stay found.

girls camp group

The Need to Meander

goofy camp girls

It’s no secret that life at camp for kids is very different from the rest of the year. Many of the differences are obvious: the activities (archery!), the food (tamales!), the weather (all of it!), the beautiful setting (mountains, waterfalls!), parental involvement (very little), close contact with nature (spiders!), access to technology (none), even our friends (the closest). But there are more subtle differences too: the shared experience and strong sense of community, the lack of academic and social competition, the regular exposure to singing, the opportunity to be creative and face adventure, the almost constant physical activity, the genuine kindness and caring shown and practiced, the face-to-face communication, the celebration of our silly sides, and the regular feelings of contentedness and joy, for example. All of these differences, and certainly more, collectively define camp life. They shape the sleepaway camp experience for your girls.

And that’s a good thing! A great thing! After all, it’s these differences that make camp inherently educational, surprising and delightful for everyone at Rockbrook. These are differences that make a difference. They are the core reason camp is great for kids, how the experience of camp life is so beneficial, even transformative in the long run.

young girl horse riding

Today another word came to mind that helps describe camp life as it differs from our kids’ ordinary experience. It’s meander.  I think it describes well a cherished freedom the girls have at Rockbrook, the regular opportunity to wander and explore what camp has to offer.

Different from the hectic pace required to balance school, sports teams, clubs, afternoon activities and home responsibilities, camp allows girls to decide for themselves how to spend their time.  We provide some structure by organizing activities (times, places, staff and supplies) and scheduling certain aspects of our day (like meals, rest hour and evening program, for example), but also build in several blocks of free time when the girls can play freely, link up with friends, and enjoy a relaxed, less goal driven pace. When there’s no grade, championship or parental praise at stake, girls can truly meander. At Rockbrook, we really value that flexibility, and believe there’s a great benefit for girls to meander, so we encourage it and support it everyday.

Girls Adventure Campers

Meandering, this self-directed exploring, is valuable because it affirms the girls’ personal choices. Not being told which activities to take, which trips to sign up for, and what to do during free time, is not just liberating; it’s empowering. The girls have great options in front of them at camp— play in the creek, or finish a craft project, or join a gagaball game, for example —so no matter what they choose, they can feel happy about what they end up doing, who they are spending time with, and what they are learning. Most importantly though, they can gain insights into their true preferences, and in some ways, who they really are. Granting children this level of agency, in other words, provides an opportunity for self-exploration and character development, no matter how subtly or explicitly.  Maybe we should say kids need to meander, for this reason. And if so, this is another reason a camp experience is so important. I’d say it’s certainly another reason why girls love Rockbrook, and again, why “there’s no place like camp.”

camp girls cheering

Accepting Adventure

Camp crew whitewater rafting

We jumped right into some outdoor adventure today, only the second full day of the session, by taking more than 90 people whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River. Since the early 1980s, after the US Forest Service issued us a permit to run the river (we’re the only girls camp to have one!), Rockbrook girls have been taking this exciting outdoor trip. It’s a fun two-hour run through the Nantahala Gorge over several well-known, named rapids as well as calm sections ideal for splashing and goofing around with the others in your boat. Over the years, rafting has become the most popular out-of-camp adventure trip we do with I’d say almost 90% of the Middlers and Seniors choosing to go.

There were actually two Rockbrook trips down the river, splitting the number of girls to make more reasonable sized groups.  The first chose to add an overnight camping experience the night before at our outpost camp located near the river’s put in. The girls came prepared with sleeping bags, a change of clothes, flashlight, brushes for hair and teeth, sprays to block bugs and the sun.  A few stuffed animals came along as well. We enjoyed a quick dinner of mac-n-cheese and still had time for a campfire and s’mores before heading off to sleep in the platform cabins. The second trip elected to ride over from camp and raft in the afternoon, finish up and be back for dinner.

Happy camp adventure rafting

The weather was ideal for both trips— hot and sunny. This of course made the “extra-cool” (close to 50 degrees) water feel both exhilarating and good. There were “high-fives” with paddles, chances to “ride the bull,” surprising bumps followed by sudden swims, and plenty of screams and laughter all day long. Check out the photo gallery to see shots from both trips. They were great!

There’s more to these rafting trips than simply the thrill, the ride, and the fun. For example, rafting is a real adventure, something that’s a little scary (because something might go wrong— like falling out of the boat), perhaps a little uncomfortable (that cold water!) and certainly a physical challenge. It promises to be fun, but really does take courage for girls to sign up and agree to go. And when they do go, endure the discomfort, power through that twinge of nervousness, and use their muscles in new ways, there’s inevitably success that feels really good. There’s accomplishment built into rafting and thereby it is a great self-confidence boosting experience. Through their own independent choice, their own agency, the girls learn they can do something (often with expert advice and special equipment) even when it looks difficult, uncomfortable or scary. Rafting can be a step toward feeling more confident and capable in other ways. Instead of shrinking from challenges, these camp girls will be more open to moving forward, accepting adventures, and proving once again that they can do it.

Camp is wonderful in this way, and this is just one example of how being independent, making choices, accepting challenges, and finding real success is our daily bread at Rockbrook… all wrapped in a thick layer of fun.  Such good stuff!

Nantahala rafting camper girls