Phenomenal First-Day Vibe

girls campersSometimes writing these blog posts about Rockbrook, I feel like I’m preaching to the choir, like most of the folks reading already believe. They already know there’s something special that happens at camp, that girls love it for all kinds of reasons, and that the social-emotional learning embedded in camp life is priceless for growing children.  But still, for the sake of those unfamiliar, let me preach a minute.

Today, as we opened our second session of camp, it was clear that this group of girls was already on their way to having a great time. There was certainly plenty of excitement and bubbling anticipation for their camp session to finally begin, but there was also a surprisingly immediate comfort, even contentment apparent when the cabin groups found each other. Maybe the amazing weather had something to do with it— sunny, breezy and warm —or perhaps the easy, relaxed pace of the opening day process, but right away everyone seemed to have a set of friends to run off with.  They were off for a quick tetherball game, the scavenger hunt around camp, adding beads to their name tags, and exploring the creek by Curosty. The cabin groupings, which are carefully assigned by Sarah, encourage that too, making sure new and returning campers alike felt included and welcomed by the grouping. Everyone will tell you that camp is mostly about the people, the friendships and positive relationships fostered between everyone here, so it was very gratifying to see how quickly the campers were bonding.

girl camp kidsThe first all-camp event provided more opportunities for this. Just before lunch, we gathered under the big walnut tree on the hill (which provides a beautiful, long-distance view of the Blue Ridge Mountains) to meet some of the key people at camp, to learn and sing a few camp songs, and to be welcomed to Rockbrook by Sarah. The girls sat in their Crazy Creek chairs, sometimes laying them flat to share the seat, while the Hi-Ups led songs. One celebrity made his first appearance too, Felix the camp dog. You’re bound to see photos of him in the online gallery now and then, but he’s an abstract caramel/cream colored, one-year-old Australian Labradoodle with a very sweet disposition. He’s always happy to have a quick scratch on the back, even by six or eight hands at the same time!

The swimming demonstrations where the lifeguards assigned swim tags to everyone, the camp tours where the girls found the location of each activity (for example, the Alpine Climbing Tower and the Nature Nook, which are both hidden in the woods on opposite sides of camp), the activity skits where the instructors staged silly “commercials” about their plans for the session, the cabin meetings where the girls learned a few important safety rules for camp, and the evening program of name games and signing up for activities —filled the remainder of our day, all contributing to that phenomenal first-day vibe.

Tomorrow we’ll launch into all the activities, get out of camp for some adventure trips, clap and sing over some fantastic scratch-made meals, and continue banking experiences that define this unique community.  It really is true; “There’s no place like camp.”  We’re all excited to dig in, and show what that means!

teen campers

Magical Moments

Camp Friends Group
As girls start getting settled into camp and third session has started going full swing, most of them have found that they feel right at home in their cabins. I love looking at how different cabins look and feel. Some are decorated with fairy lights, a camp “bucket list” of all the things the cabin wants to accomplish throughout the session, plus many photographs of camp from years past and friends and family from home. Everything is starting to feel cozy, the noises of the night no longer so scary, the bunk beds and friends ever more inviting.

In addition to the physical space in which we are residing, everyone is starting to get more comfortable with one another. We are moving past basic questions and getting in to the ease that comes with being around good friends. This was particularly appreciated today because we got to hang out as cabins all afternoon—it was Cabin Day! For Cabin Day, we cancel the two afternoon activities and counselors plan fun activities for their individual cabins. Everyone looks forward to cabin day— it usually means an extra special activity, some good snacks, and, of course, lots of time spent bonding together!

Middle School Girls CampThe counselors put a lot of work planning activities they think their individual cabins will enjoy, and it definitely showed today! One group of junior counselors knew their girls loved playing with hair, so they spray painted hair (it’s temporary!) and braided the girls’ hair. This made every girl have the opportunity to be wacky, but also to feel special as they all had fun helping each other to do some fun hair dos.

Another junior cabin loves fairies (which is something I hear more about at Rockbrook than anywhere else—there is something that is just magical about it). Their counselors planned a great adventure for them, and I loved hearing all about it from the girls! They hiked to Stick Biscuit Falls (the nearest waterfall from camp—you can actually see the waterfall from the new office building) and searched for fairies. Then, after romping around in the woods and finding an adventurous trail back down the mountain, the girls made their own fairy wings! In addition, they came up with their own fairy identities— I heard of a football fairy, a flower fairy, and a nature fairy! The girls told me that their cabin had made a pact to wear their fairy wings at every meal (while they made sure to point out that other fairy accessories were encouraged, but they were not required). This seems like a small detail of a camper’s time at Rockbrook, but these are the magical parts of camp, the things that give cabins a certain identity that they will remember for years to come.

Pokemon Camp GameThe middlers decided to do something as a line for cabin day, and I saw so much excitement as the girls raced up and down the lines. In light of the Pokémon Go craze, the middler counselors decided to bring Pokémon Go to Rockbrook! Each counselor dressed up as a Pokémon and some hid while others went around with the girls. Much like a scavenger hunt, the girls went from station to station and acquired different treats (that were in Easter Eggs) as though they were collecting Pokemon. Then, they got to decorate cookies that looked like the different characters. Finally, to cap off a great cabin day, they all had a “battle” in the gym by playing dodge ball. Everyone had an amazing time and all the middlers were grateful for all the thought their counselors had put into the activity.

For their cabin day, the seniors had a picnic for dinner and then went to Sliding Rock and Dolly’s. The picnic was perfect—the girls ate quiche, warm lasagna, fresh peaches (possibly the best peaches I’ve ever had), and banana pudding. We then played a large group game of “I’m a Rockbrook Girl and You’re a Rockbrook Girl too,” which is a tradition at these picnics and an opportunity for all of us to learn new things about others. Then, girls went down Sliding Rock— they loved the opportunity to slide as many times as they wanted. Though cold afterward, everyone was excited for Dolly’s, the local ice cream shop that names its flavors for the local camps.

No matter which adventure they were a part of, every camper enjoyed Cabin Day. It makes us all to feel more connected with our cabin and lets counselors be creative, choosing things their particular campers will enjoy. Above all, though, growing closer as cabins allows us to feel even more comfortable with each other, and therefore even happier and more at home at camp.

Girls Slide Rock

If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?

One of the things [Uncle Alex] found objectionable about human beings was that they so rarely noticed it when they were happy. He himself did his best to acknowledge it when times were sweet. We could be drinking lemonade in the shade of an apple tree in the summertime, and Uncle Alex would interrupt the conversation to say, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

So I hope that you will do the same for the rest of your lives. When things are going sweetly and peacefully, please pause a moment, and then say out loud, “If this isn’t nice, what is?” -Kurt Vonnegut

Girl Camp SwimmingGirls savored today as it was the last normal day of camp. Tomorrow, we have banquet, and the day after is the play and Spirit Fire. Today brought us opportunities to finish mermaid laps and Rockbrook running miles. It was a day to give away friendship bracelets and to relish the simplicity of talking to a circle of good friends in front of the cabin.

We have been at camp for quite awhile at this point, and with the end looming so close, I wanted to step back and consider those moments where all is well with the world. These are not the big moments that might stand out in our minds when we think of camp, but the little ones where everything is just going right. There are so many small and beautiful moments at camp, but they happen so quickly that if we don’t acknowledge them, we can take them for granted. We live good lives at camp, and when I zoomed out my perspective, I began to consider the small moments of loveliness that I can overlook after spending many days in this wonderful place.

At camp, we live in a world where…

  1. A fresh-baked muffin greets us every mid-morning. We ate fresh-baked, cinnamon apple muffins that were still warm from the oven. We get a new muffin flavor every day, which makes the rainiest days cozy and gives all of us a little extra warmth from the bakers. It’s a social time, too, as the news of the muffin flavor travels up and down hills and girls bring muffins to their friends who are in hard-to-reach places. I think that starting the day with a muffin makes the day that much better.
  2. We spend all day playing outside and learning new things. Sometimes, we become so caught up in exactly what an activity is doing every day that we forget that we are spending our days playing. What kind of day could be more incredible than one that includes kayaking on a lake, making a pinch pot, and hiking to Castle Rock…all within about six hours? These are days lived fully, where we appreciate every ounce of free time we have.
  3. Camp Girl FriendsGirl Archer at campOur best friends are our neighbors and we all like each other and are the kind of neighbors who would gladly lend a cup of sugar (or a pair of shoes or costume)! Each line forms a beautiful community of girls who are comfortable with each other. At this point, every cabin has girls from other cabins popping in and out of it; the cabins are much more cohesive than they were three short weeks ago. It is so convenient to be surrounded by good friends all of the time, always ready for a game of cards or a walk to the camp store. The counselors know all of the campers on their line, and when we gather together, there is a feeling of community that encompasses the entire room.
  4. We can choose how to spend our free time and we engage fully throughout that free time. Today, I played tennis with a camper during a free swim, and we had a great time practicing strokes and improving our skills. Many of the girls in my cabin ran with Rockbrook Runners. Then, for another free swim, we took a cabin hike to Castle Rock, a huge rock face that overlooks camp. Sometimes, free time will include One Direction dance parties or badminton tournaments. This time is not always so structured, but if anyone has an idea, we try our hardest to make it happen. We value this time and we try to make the most of it, even on the days that means relaxing and talking to friends on the porch.
  5. We are explorers of the world (or at least Western North Carolina), and we never know what we are going to run into! Our corner of the world is filled with animals and vegetation. The juniors teach the rest of us to explore the world–they are constantly sticking their feet in the creek looking for salamanders and skinks. Other girls decide that they want to romp around the forest and see waterfalls. Camp give us the place, the tools, and the friends to explore the world and teaches us to be more observant.

As these girls prepare to leave and we begin to reflect on what distinguishes camp from the rest of the world, I think these are five things that we have really been doing at camp. To cap off a beautiful day, I went to the Rockbrook Garden with a small group of campers. We showed each other the zesty verbena plant, plucked some strawberries off the vine, and smelled the gentle lavender plant. I realized that at Rockbrook, there are so many moments where I just need to step back and sigh, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

Happy Nice Camper

Redbirds, Jitters, & Camp Camaraderie

By Chrissy Swartz, Waterfront Director

A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver

All night my heart makes its way
however it can over the rough ground
of uncertainties, but only until night
meets and then is overwhelmed by
morning, the light deepening, the
wind easing and just waiting, as I
too wait (and when have I ever been
disappointed?) for redbird to sing.

Was Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver a Rockbrook girl? She certainly could have been, given her delicate writings and musings on nature and its beauty. I was shocked when I came across this poem recently while reading a collection of her poems at camp since the redbird is such a traditional symbol of Rockbrook. Immediately I related A Thousand Mornings to life at RBC—especially to the feelings of excitement and hesitation that the first few days of camp bring.

potteryBreakfast on this first full day of camp is always full of cautious energy. The campers, counselors, and activity instructors are all raring to go. As soon as breakfast ends the camp leaps into full swing. The girls head off to their activities, and it feels like Second Session has officially begun. Once again camp is filled with the sounds of children playing in different areas of camp, their laughter floating above the lake all the way up the hill.

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 11.45.37 PMSoon the nervous butterflies and hesitations disappear as the girls chat at muffin break about their first activity period. Everyone has a story to share. By Free Swim many of the girls were coming down in groups to take a dip in the lake with their friends. It’s wonderful to see friendships new and old bringing girls together so quickly on the first full day.

We also finally got a rainstorm this afternoon! We haven’t had rain for a few weeks, so the shower was much appreciated. It wasn’t enough to disrupt activities, but it did encourage girls to take advantage of bonding time in the cabin. The rain makes things grow, including cabin camaraderie. It’s wonderful that so much happened today at camp, both outside in activities as well as inside the cabins among the girls. Cabin culture is a huge part of the camp experience, and today was a very formative day in that regard, especially since the rain encouraged a cozy afternoon after the storm.

By dinner the energy was buzzing in 3girlssillythe dining hall. After four activity periods, the day seems endless because so much has already been done. The girls were laughing and singing loudly and proudly, finally allowing themselves to settle in a bit more to the crazy camp lifestyle.

Twilight offered a trip down to the camp garden, as well as another chance for the girls to get more comfortable with the charms of camp and their friends on the hill. Finally, the night ended with cabin skits on each line, offering a new way for cabinmates to bond over a shared experience of performing ridiculous skits in fun costumes in front of their peers. Milk and cookies topped off the evening as the girls went off to bed, a new day patiently waiting on the other side of a second night in the mountains. Tomorrow, the redbird will sing again.

camerasLove from the Lake,

Chrissy

What is a Sleepaway Camp?

Sleepaway CampsRockbrook is an “overnight” summer camp, an example of what some call a “sleepaway” camp. This means that girls come and spend the night at camp for several days or weeks.

Another term you might hear is “residential,” but no matter which term— overnight, sleepaway, or residential —joining a session at Rockbrook means you’ll sleep in a cabin at night.

On the other hand, some camps have campers only during the day. These are called “day camps.” Rockbrook does not have a day camp.

How about this… “At Rockbrook, campers are residents who sleep away from home overnight.” 🙂

But where do you sleep (away)? We have simple wooden cabins— nice and cozy dry, with screens on the windows to allow the sounds and scents of the forest to pass through. Everyone has her own bed, some top bunks and other bottom.  There are lights, but no electrical outlets (no need for those!). Except for the counselors, most everyone in your cabin will be about the same age (finishing the same grade), which makes it easy to have lots in common.  You’ll also eat meals with your cabin mates, so it’s easy to become quick friends.