Camp as Our Constant

Change, change, change. It feels every stage of life brings more and more change. When I was feeling a bit overwhelmed this year with all the change around me, one of my peers offered me some (unsolicited) advice:” Change is the only constant in the world.” Although I beg to differ, I do know a place that will always be more constant than change in my life.

camp weaving girlsExactly a year ago, I drove away from Rockbrook Camp for Girls and towards Ann Arbor, MI to start medical school. My life became busy with deadlines, schedules, exams filled with what seemed like endless memorization. To make things even more hectic, my schedule was different every week and change became my new normal. Needless to say, it’s been a busy year with so much change, and it seemed that as the year went on, I realized I didn’t take time to reflect on who I was and whom I was becoming.

When I made the choice to come back to camp this session—even just for 10 days—I wanted to make sure it was for the right reasons. I have spent so much of my year worrying about my own needs and filling my own cup that I wanted to give back to a place that gave me so much. Many of my camp friends and campers would not be present during this session, so I was nervous to come back to a place where so many of the people that made it special were no longer there. With those friends and campers that were at camp this year, I knew it would be important to avoid showing up with expectations of what I wanted my short time at camp to be. In a happy turn of events, my short time here has turned into so much more than I ever expected. When I arrived, I was expecting camp to feel different, and yet, camp hasn’t failed to bring the incredibly familiar.

knitting girlsAs soon as I caught a whiff of the camp smell, it felt like I was home. It felt like for the first time in over a year, I was able to hit pause and look around. The crunching sound as we walk through the rocks at camp, the beautiful wooded mountains in the background, the chilly lake waiting for campers to jump in— how I took these simple sights for granted! In addition to these consistent sounds and scenes of beauty, I’ve realized camp brings other timeless qualities to new and old Rockbrook girls that make this place a home base for so many of us.

The best part about this familiarity is that I’m not the only one who feels it. A few days ago, I met an alumna from many years ago who described the sense of comfort that walking through camp brings her; she knew Rockbrook as the place that helped her know who she was and who she always wanted to be. So relatable! Just a few hours later, I heard the same words from some current campers on the senior line. They talked about how much they wanted to bring their camp self to their lives year-round because they knew that here they are their best selves.

zip line camp girlHow exactly do we become our best selves? While I think there are many answers, I have a hypothesis: Camp reliably brings us routine and, in that routine, so much comfort. This comfort gives us the space to be our best selves. This is a place where we build each other up and we begin to judge our successes based on the success of our community and not our own personal success. By investing in each other, we inevitably become the best version of ourselves.

How did I get so lucky? In a world that seems to never stop bringing change, it is so nice to know that we have Rockbrook to remind us of who we are. I get to have a place to come back to that will—without fail—always remind me of who I am and can be. What a gift. Thank you Rockbrook for another great summer. Thank you for all the new and old friendships. Thank you for always being more constant than change and never failing to be exactly what I needed.

—Maria Santos

camp girls together

What Makes a Camp Friendship

Maggie and Friends

Ten years ago, on the first night of my CA year, I went to bed with a full heart and so much joy. I remember thinking to myself, “I have twenty more days with these friends.” I hadn’t seen my cabin-mates in a year and I wanted to savor every day we had together. There was something about this group of girls that was different than my friends from home. Although I didn’t know the exact difference, I knew it was meaningful and would last a lifetime.

The topic of camp friendships was sparked in a recent conversation and I still was unable to describe how camp friendships were different from friendships at home. I decided to ask Rockbrook girls of all ages the question, “Why are camp friends so special?” Some answers are similar, others are different, but all encompass the spirit of Rockbrook and the friendships that are formed in the “Heart of a Wooded Mountain.” Here are few of the answers, and while they may not point to some single essence of camp friendship, they are insightful.

camp teen friends

One of the youngest campers I asked observed that camp friends are special because “they are with you so much,” you see them “only once a year,” and because you are “living with them” you are just so “comfortable around them.”

Several Middlers, girls about 11 and 12 years old, echoed that observation that camp friends are “stronger.” Camp friends are “the best friends I’ve ever had,” because you are “away from each other all year. You will “have them forever” because you can “be yourself with them.”

The oldest campers described their camp friends as a “sisterhood I will cherish forever,” a closeness like “family” even though they’re from all over. At camp, they said “it’s easier to connect with people” simply because you are “away from friends from home.”

camp swimming buddies

Several counselors attributed the special character of their camp friendships to unplugging from technology and social media while at camp. Camp life provides “more opportunities to talk face to face,” and no “social pressures to be or act the coolest, have the most friends/followers, and you just get to be yourself.”

I also asked Rockbrook alumnae, now grown women who attended camp as children, about their camp friendships. One put it this way— “Camp friends have a better understanding of who you are which makes them more loyal, easier to talk to, and easier to be around.” And another— “Camp friends are like no others… we meet at a place where we can completely be ourselves. No pressure to look beautiful, be cool, or dress like a super model. A friend at camp is someone who is genuine and real.” At camp, you are “friends because you like/love the real person for who they are and the amazing memories you make and share.”

Camp Friends girls

One alumna described it beautifully:

“Too often, in the ‘real world’ people let first impressions rule the day. Beauty, wealth, fashion, youth, and social standing open doors, while a lack of these can close them. At camp, you are only responsible for how you treat others. Your kindness, positivity and openness draws people to you and friendship results. Friendships based on this solid foundation of authenticity are friendships that last a lifetime.

I have RBC friends that I met as a small child, and those that I met at reunions. Some are decades older. Some are decades younger. They live all over the world. We have been incredibly silly together, laughed our heads off together, and cried together as life has gone through its inevitable struggles. I am never alone. As the song says, ‘Look always to it when you’re in trouble… The spirit of Rockbrook…’  Camp is unconditional acceptance and true friendship sharing wonderful experiences from which you both grow as people. It’s a lifelong gift, and I am indescribably grateful for it.”

—Maggie Cameron

best camp friends

We Love You Counselors…

Camp counselors in waterfallAt Rockbrook, we talk a lot about the friendships that campers develop as the days and years go by. Many campers, reflecting on what makes Rockbrook a special place to them, talk about the people that they meet here — people that will color their memories of camp for years to come. Often, the people that come to mind when thinking of camp friends are peers — the people who are in your cabin, that you take activities with, that you go on adventure trips with. Tonight in the dining hall, while listening to campers belt out an appreciation song dedicated to “counselors,” I realized that maybe thinking this way might be putting a limit on our experiences. There are many others involved in creating the camp experience special for campers, but the people with the biggest influence are counselors.

We are always so proud of the staff that we hire to be counselors at Rockbrook. Every year, Sofie works hard to hire a group of women who are confident, strong, and empathetic, as well as fun and silly! These women are the role models and beloved leaders for our campers. They do so much for everyone here, and at the end of the session, campers get to show their gratitude in classic Rockbrook style…with a skit!

The Monday before camp closes (today!), the theme for Evening Program skits is “Counselor Impersonations.” In these very special skits, cabins get to reflect on their favorite memories with their counselors. Campers work together to recreate moments when their counselors made them laugh, comforted them, or any other special memories they share. Because of this, these skits are always incredibly unique and unbelievably touching. I got to watch some of these skits tonight, and from the silly moments that juniors chose to share to the sweet moments that seniors chose, I loved getting to see the relationships that campers and counselors have formed over their time at camp. As the song goes, WE LOVE YOU COUNSELORS!

3rd Session Video Part Two

We’ve got another wonderful video from Robbie of Go Swan Filmworks!

After spending just a day at camp this week, quiet and clever with his camera, Robbie again captured precious scenes from life at Rockbrook and put together this short 2-minute clip.

Like the first one from this session, we think you’ll really enjoy seeing it.

Second Session Video Part Three

Robbie from Go Swan Filmworks recently spent another day at Rockbrook filming, capturing on video some of the ordinary sights and sounds of camp life. The edited clip, despite being less than 2 minutes long, conveys wonderfully the atmosphere of camp so loved by the everyone here.

We hope you enjoy watching!

P.S. If you missed the two earlier videos of Second Session, they are here and here. 🙂

Tenisha’s Spirit Fire Speech

During the Spirit Fire that closed our recent Second Session, Tenisha was one of the first-year counselors who spoke about her experience on the staff at camp. She described her feelings as someone new to Rockbrook, and how the character of our camp community has affected her. We thought it was wonderful, and wanted to share it.

Nisha Morrison

“Sitting at home and thinking about what I would do this summer, I knew I wanted to do something different, something new and extraordinary. I wanted something where I would make memories that I could reminisce about later, something that would teach me lifelong lessons, something that would teach me how to be a better person, but most of all I wanted something that had a positive environment where I could be happy.

After watching the camp videos over and over on the website, I knew I would find all those things at RBC. Seeing all the smiles and laughter, all the costumes and events cemented my decision to apply. When I spoke to Sophie on the phone I knew I made the right choice. Listening to her enthusiasm about camp, my first thought was she’s not real. There’s no way someone could be that excited about anything, but my second thought was that I have to see what sparked so much happiness and excitement.

From the moment I entered camp I was greeted with genuine welcome from the Directors and counselors I had never met before. Within the first week I had friends and by the third I knew I had found life long friendships. I remember one day I was walking down senior line being greeted by smiling faces and it wasn’t until I reached the end that I realized my cheeks were aching from smiling so much. I was genuinely happy. I realized that even though I reached the end of the senior line, I didn’t want to reach the end of my time at Rockbrook.

Rockbrook: where girls learn to grow. When I came here, I had no idea I would be one of those girls. With the help of the the Directors, my co-counselors, and other counselors who came to be close friends, I found that I grew into a Rockbrook girl who stops every chance she gets to take in nature and appreciate her, who laughs and smiles everyday because she’s surrounded by kindhearted people who care, who wakes up with a spider by her head and doesn’t panic but catches it and releases it outside, a girl who became a sponge wanting to soak up every song, every fact about the camp activities and traditions.

And most of all, thanks to Rockbrook, I became a girl who found her very own spirit fire that she had no idea she carried. It burns brighter than ever now. So thank you Rockbrook!”

Thank you, Nisha!

Ate a Bullet

Riflery range showing shooting positions

One of the many unique traditions of Rockbrook is the signatures in many of the cabins. Campers can sign their names along with the year and session on the inside, allowing them to leave behind a little bit of their legacy that they can return to years later. There are also a few special places besides cabins where signatures can be found. One of my favorite places at camp to read the signatures is the rifle range. The signatures on the range date back to the 1960’s (the original range was located where Nature Nook is now). As a riflery instructor, I have spent a lot of time at the range and have enjoyed reading the Riflery Woman of the Week plaques from the 60’s or the “We Creamed Keystone” or “Carolina was shot down today!” victory declarations from tournaments.

Jane Spell with Horse
Jane Spell

As a camper sitting on the student bench, one name really stuck out to me: “Jane Spell High-Up 77” is written in a light blue paint that seems to only have gotten brighter with age while other names have faded. I’ve always wondered what she used to write that with! Later as a riflery instructor, I read on the inside of the gun cabinet where Spell supposedly “ate a bullet 7-25-77.” I always associated Jane Spell with the rifle range and was excited to meet her one summer and later learn she and my mother went to camp together.

One of the most exciting parts of being a riflery instructor is getting to name the guns. The girls enjoy calling the guns by their names and returning each year to shoot their favorite gun. We have Annie Oakley and Drop Dead Fred for the classic Westerns, Draco Malfoy and Captain Jack Sparrow from recent big movies, Guildenstern from Shakespeare, and Big Daddy, Bad Momma, and Little Bertha too. Some old favorites who have since been retired are the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Oscar the Grouch, and Old Dirty Betty. I chose to name one of our new guns “Spell” in honor of Jane Spell, who has always been a part of the rifle range to me even before I met her. The gun reads “Spell” and then in a smaller print: “eating bullets since 1977.” This summer the campers were so excited to shoot the new gun. Every time we had a new group at the range, someone would ask, “Is Spell named for Jane Spell?” Their next question would then be: “Did she REALLY eat a bullet in ’77?” I wasn’t there in 1977, so I can’t for sure say if she did, but I do know Jane Spell became a Rockbrook legend when it was written in the cabinet!

—Leah Mayo

Words that Inspire

During a staff meeting this past summer, we divided our counselors into groups of four. Each group was given a set of famous quotations that they were asked to relate to their job at a summer camp. After five minutes the groups traded quotations and the pattern continued until each counselor had analyzed about 25 different quotes.

Some of the responses from counselors were funny, some sweet and tender, and many were thought-provoking. Take a look at a sampling of the words that inspired our job performance last summer.

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the sky.”     -Jack Kerouac, On the Road

“Do the things you talked about doing but never did. Know when to let go and when to hold on tight. Stop rushing. Don’t be intimidated to say it like it is. Stop apologizing all the time. Learn to say no, so your yes has some oomph. Spend time with friends who lift you up, and cut loose the ones who bring you down. Stop giving your power away. Be more concerned with being interested than being interesting. Be old enough to appreciate your freedom, and young enough to enjoy it. Finally, know who you are.”     -Kristin Armstrong

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”     -Neale Donald Walsh

“Consider the postage stamp: its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing until it gets there.”     -Josh Billings

“If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in the dark with a mosquito.”     -Unknown