A Terrific Evening

Camp Lake SwimDuring the two “Free Swim” periods of each day, 45 minutes before both lunch and dinner, it’s common to see a good number of girls swimming laps at the lake. Some using kick boards and others varying their strokes, girls are clocking laps back and forth. And they are keeping count of exactly how many they finish, because if they reach 200 (150 for Middlers, and 100 for Juniors) they join the “Mermaid Club.” You can imagine completing that many laps is no one-day affair; it takes dedication and multiple trips to the lake. When a camper joins the Mermaid Club, Chrissy, our Waterfront Director, will read out your name in the dining hall during the announcements after a meal, and then the whole camp sings the “Mermaid Song” inserting the camper’s name in the final line. Chrissy wrote the song, and here are the words.

The Mermaid Song

Way down at Rockbrook in the chilly lake,
There were some girls a-swimming,
Who started to shiver and shake.
We saw some scales a-glinting,
And tails they did sprout!
Lo and behold a mermaid and the whole camp did shout
“Oh Mermaid, Mermaid, What’s your name?
[name]! [name]! You’re a mermaid!”

More of a chant than a song, it’s an honor to be recognized by everyone in this way. In addition to the recognition, some girls are (at least partially!) motivated by another perk awarded members of the Mermaid Club each session: a trip to Dolly’s Dairy Bar. For girls who simply love the waterfront, the water slide “Big Samantha,” the diving board, or just floating around on a tube in the sun, this is a concrete way to show it. Here’s a short video to give you a better sense of it all. I wonder if your girls are striving to join the Mermaid Club… (Hint. Hint. You could write them and ask!)

Gym Games at summer campFor those who prefer more land-based activities to fill their free time, the gym is one place to go because there’s bound to be a basketball or dodgeball game in the works. Right outside the gym, the GaGa pit is a great option. The tennis courts are also available to practice your serve or just to hit a few ball with a friend. A group of “Rockbrook Runners,” which includes walkers, leaves for a loop around the camp during the first Free Swim of the day. Like the Mermaid Club, the Rockbrook Runners have a club based on how many loops/laps are completed by the girls. It’s the “Marathon Club,” and as you might guess, the runners aim to finish 26 miles while they are here for the full session (though less if at camp for fewer weeks). And yes, the same extra sweet, creamy reward awaits those who run the required amount. Running for ice cream… I suppose that makes sense in some way or another.

The tankless hot water heaters were humming constantly this afternoon after we announced at lunch that tonight we would travel over to Camp High Rocks for a square dance with their boys. After braiding a lot of clear hair, dressing in whatever combination of flannel, jeans and bandannas we could gather, our entire camp made the short journey up the mountain (10 bus/van loads plus a couple of cars for extra counselors!). When we arrived, the boys were waiting for us out on their tennis courts and the bluegrass music was already playing from a set of speakers on the small hill nearby.  Some of the girls seemed a little nervous about not knowing how to square dance, but the High Rocks boys, and their counselors, were friendly and relaxed about the whole event and helped the girls learn different moves. Once we got going that uncertainty passed and soon everyone was smiling and laughing with every turn and do-si-do.

Camp Square Dancers Camp Square Dancing

After about an hour of dancing, we took a short break to mingle and recharge with some homemade oatmeal raisin cookies and lemonade. A little more dancing and we were back down the mountain discussing what made tonight’s square dance (for some, surprisingly) so fun. Maybe it was the outdoor setting with beautiful evening sunlight, or the lighthearted friendly atmosphere, or the opportunities to talk with each other, or the gentlemanly behavior of the High Rocks boys, or the genre of the music (… Well, for the girls, maybe not that.). Whatever the reason, we were all sure it was a terrific evening.

summer camp girls

Good Clean Fun

Messy and Smiling

One of my favorite memories as a staff member at Rockbrook occurred one day early in Third Session a few years ago. A rainstorm had just cleared out, and I was walking to the Dining Hall, enjoying the reemerging sunshine. I walked past a shady spot by the stream, where a patch of earth had been transformed into a patch of mud. Two Juniors were jumping around in the mud, getting splatters all over their legs and clothes, and laughing uproariously when their feet would slide out from beneath them.

Dancing QueensThe noise attracted one of their counselors, who had been standing nearby. As she approached, the girls got very still, adjusted their giddy smiles into expressions of contrition, and waited to be reprimanded for making such a mess. The counselor stood quietly for a moment, looking them over, before kneeling, taking a handful of mud and spreading a wide streak of mud on each cheek, like war paint. “Can I play?” she asked.

I continued past the little group to the Dining Hall, leaving behind two awed and delighted campers, and one very, very cool counselor. I saw all three that evening at dinner, scrubbed clean. They were relating their adventures to the rest of their cabin—telling them all about the moment they realized that they were actually allowed to be dirty.

u809869_p7707493u809869_p7706727Now, there’s no need to worry, we do encourage frequent showers, parcel out daily chores to keep the cabins tidy, and have all campers and counselors help to clean up the tables after meals in the dining hall. That being said, we also do all that we can to discourage that aversion to getting dirty that seems only to get stronger in girls as they get older. It’s no secret that girls tend to become more focused on their appearance as they get older, and Senior campers have expressed to me their reluctance even to do something as simple as getting their faces painted at home, for fear of looking dumb.

That fear of looking dumb, or silly, or improper, or anything other than perfectly presentable at all times, is a fear that camp manages to quash remarkably quickly considering how powerful it can be out in the “real world.” Within a few days at camp, makeup bags have been zipped up and put away, hair has been thrown up into messy buns, and hands have been stained by tie-dye and red clay.

Last night, we put that change on full display, by putting on a “girls’ dance,” a giant dance party—complete with a DJ, glow sticks, and strobe lights—down at the gym. After dinner, each age group went back to its lodge, where the girls decked themselves out in glow-in-the-dark facepaint, glow stick jewelry, and white clothes.

To get down to the gym, the girls had two options. They could either walk down the lower line of cabins to the gym, and start dancing a little early, OR they could take the messier route. Lining the lakeside road (which also leads to the gym), were counselors, CITs, and Hi Ups, toting water guns and bags of powder paint. Campers of all ages ran down this path, allowing themselves to be soaked first, then covered from head to toe in multicolored paint. Emerging from the other end of this “color run” was an army of human tie-dyes, racing to get to the gym and an evening of music and dancing.

With no slow dances with boys, streaky makeup, or pretty clothes to worry about, the girls danced harder and seemed to have more fun than I’d ever seen at a camp dance before. They streamed out of the gym again at bedtime, taking their milk and cookies with them as they went, giving no thought to their sweaty clothes, streaky painted faces, or tangled hair. The campers that I talked to could only express the fun they’d had, and maybe a bit of pride in the audacity it took for them to get a little messy.

A Haven for Friendship

Camp friends hugging

One of deepest and longest lasting rewards of a residential camp experience, particularly true here at Rockbrook, is the quality of the friendships formed between the girls. Camp friends are special for some reason, closer and more satisfying than the people you know at home or at school. Why that’s the case is interesting.

Rockbrook is a “haven for close friendships” partly because it is a community built foremost upon warmth and caring for everyone. Camp is a place were every girl here belongs, and is fully included, respected and valued. From the directors and staff members on down, we begin with compassion and generosity, with spirited communication and cooperation, and end up with genuine encouragement. This is powerful stuff when you experience it everyday from everyone around you. It becomes a positive force that encourages the girls, indeed the counselors too, to move past what they believe others (parents and peers, for example) want them to be, and to explore their true personality, spirit and character, their “authentic selves.” This is a welcome feeling of freedom, but it’s also the secret to making really deep friendships. Camp has the power to dissolve that common artificiality driving so many “real world” interactions, and thereby also to fuel the genuine connections that bind true friends. Camp proves how posing is the enemy of friendship.

Combined with the shared experience of camp— the activities, meals and free time together —and the “boy-distraction-free” environment we enjoy, Rockbrook empowers girls to make friends by having the confidence to be themselves.

Camp girls geocaching

This morning our friend Matt Christian arrived to offer the campers an introduction to “geocaching.” Geocaching is essentially a “real-world treasure hunt” where players use GPS devices to find hidden “caches,” often waterproof boxes containing notepads to sign when found, and other surprising knickknacks. Matt carefully positioned several caches around camp for the girls, and after teaming up into groups of 2 or 3, and learning to use the GPS units, they explored the camp property looking for their “treasures.” Some were easy to spot, being out in the open, but others were truly camouflaged. Geocaching is a worldwide phenomenon, and can be something fun to do even at home. Here’s the official Web site to learn more.

Tonight we held a camp tradition that seems to always send a shudder of excitement through the dining hall when it’s announced. The deafening roar proved it today at lunch when the girls learned we would be dancing with the boys of Camp Carolina tonight. Fire up the showers, bust out the clean shirt, find your hairbrush (or in one case I noticed… your hair curlers), and for some, devise your best silly costume… dance night can take some preparation! We held 2 simultaneous dances, one here at Rockbrook for the youngest girls, and the other at Carolina for the Seniors and Hi-Ups. This made the number of children manageable at both camps, and allowed for more age-appropriate dances and music. The younger campers had a great time dancing together and with their counselors, mostly oblivious to the boys, while the older girls jumped around, laughing, singing (and sweating) to the beat. Tonight was also fun to see several brothers and sisters finding each other and being happy to reunite after being away at different camps. The whole evening was sweet and lighthearted with your girls being polite and gracious in every way.

Camp girls at dance party
Brother Sister Pair at Camp Dance

Lastly, I wanted to pass along news that Rockbrook is being briefly recognized in the current summer issue of Preservation: The Magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The article mentions our 19th-century log cabins, “Goodwill” and “Curosty,” as examples of well-preserved summer camp architecture still in use today.

Hopping and Hustling

Camp girl jumping in the lakeFree time for reading at summer campJust before lunch, for about an hour, our daily schedule includes a period we call “First Free Swim.” It’s a time when Chrissy, our waterfront director, and her team of lifeguards open the lake for anyone who would like to come down for a dip. This can be quite a few campers and counselors, so Chrissy stations extra guards and adds additional “Lookouts” to watch every part of the lake. During this time, we also open our 50ft water slide (affectionately known as “Big Samantha”) for those brave enough to climb the tower and hurtle themselves down the slick ride into the lake. Today, while the slide was open, some girls did tricks off the diving board and others simply wanted to float on a tube, relaxing in the sun. Lots of girls swam laps too, trying to reach the number needed to join the “Mermaid Club.”

“First Free Swim” is also simply a block of free time for the girls, a time when they might choose to go swimming, but just as frequently do something else. They might sit and read in the shade of the walnut tree on the hill, work on a friendship bracelet perched high in a red porch rocking chair, meet at the tennis courts to hit a few balls, race flip flops down the creek, play a quick game of tetherball, or perhaps plan to take a shower. And these are just a few of the options… There’s a “Rockbrook Runners” club, the “Green Team,” play practice, hunting for the Rockbrook Gnome, re-checking your mailbox, and of course, just hanging out talking with your friends. What’s important though, is that we have multiple times (there also a “Second Free Swim” period before dinner, and “Twilight” after dinner) built into our schedule when the girls have the freedom to choose what they would like to do. Different from their busy schedules at home, their extensive commitments and expectations associated with school, life at Rockbrook provides time for our girls to pursue their own interests, to set their own pace, and to enjoy this kind of independence. It’s a little strange for children to have this kind of freedom— after all, we adults are constantly telling them what to do —but these Rockbrook girls handle it quite well. They easily stay busy and happily engaged. They love being empowered in this way. In the end, being given this freedom is another boost, experienced firsthand, to their self-confidence.

Aiming archery bowChild aiming a rifleIn both the riflery and archery activities, we’ve got girls with a serious look in their (one) eye. With this many days of experience banked, with this many bullets and arrows successfully striking their targets, these girls are really becoming great shots! They’re pulling back their bows and loading their rifles with resolute confidence. They’ve mastered being steady, and honed their powers of concentration. For some of the girls, this is serious business because they know that next week Rockbrook will challenges the boys of Camp Carolina in a Riflery, Archery and Tennis tournament. We’ve held this match each session for decades, and no matter what the outcome of the contest, it’s always great fun for the girls to show off their skills.

It’s also a tradition for the girls of Rockbrook to attend a dance with one of the local camps for boys. Earlier in the summer we danced with the boys of Camp High Rocks, but tonight we held an event with Camp Carolina. Actually we teamed up to hold two events, a dance for the younger boys and girls at Rockbrook, and another for the older teenagers at Carolina. This allows us to play more age appropriate music and to reduce the number of children at one venue. The girls anticipated having the dance and were excited to wear a special outfit or crazy costume. One girl dressed as a pumpkin, another a crayon, and another a clown. Several girls wore tie-dye t-shirts and shorts, but in every case this was a time to clean up a bit.

Kids at summer camp dance

At Rockbrook, our favorite local DJ, Marcus, played current pop songs and plenty of group dance numbers (The Cha Cha Slide, for example) making it easy for everyone to join in the dancing. Overall, the dancing was pretty silly, with lots of jumping to reach one hand in the air. The thrill isn’t particularly about individual dance moves or polished displays, but instead is derived from the whole group, crowded together, hopping and hustling simultaneously. As each familiar song was played, the girls screamed and sang along, having an absolutely fantastic time. Also— and this was surprisingly true for most of the teenagers as well as the younger girls —the dance wasn’t much about the boys. It was rather another chance to dress up (silly or not), laugh and act a little crazy, be together with friends, and have a really great time. These girls know how to do all of this, and it’s impressive!

Teen girls at summer camp dance

A Complete Blast

camp craft cabin interior
Camp fiber arts craft projects
Camp girls weaving on floor loom

One of the most historic buildings at Rockbrook is the log cabin named Curosty. Mrs. Carrier, Rockbrook’s founder, moved it to camp, along with another cabin named “Goodwill,” from the plantation where she was born in South Carolina. Both cabins easily predate her birth in 1889. They are authentic log buildings constructed from 12-inch thick logs set on a low stone foundation and equipped with a stone fireplace and chimney on one end. The Curosty cabin has a wooden porch jutting off the back, and the Goodwill cabin has a stone porch running along its front. Curosty briefly served as an office for the camp, but it soon became the home of one of the original craft activities: weaving. As you can see from these photos, this is still true today. A visitor can peek into Curosty at anytime, and there will be table-top and floor looms clicking away. Nowadays, the girls are doing other kinds of weaving, as this project board shows: Latch Hook, lanyard, and basket weaving for example.  Their projects include making belts, purses, bookmarks, potholders, sock dolls, dream catchers, pillows, yarn dolls, and “ojos de dios” (eyes of god)… All from many strands of colorful yarns twisted and tied, carefully intertwined and looped over and under each other. There are some very beautiful things being made.

Camp color run girl

In a community of all-girls, it can be fun sometimes to get a little messy. Tonight’s evening program gave us exactly that opportunity when we set up a “Color Run” to the gym. This was a crazy event where the campers ran (jogged actually) through a gauntlet-like row of counselors throwing different colors of non-toxic, washable, powdered paint. A few counselors squirted the campers with water guns to start off, so the paint stuck in very cool tie-dye-like patterns on the their shirts, shorts, arms and legs. The girls added colorful face paint to decorate themselves even more outrageously. For those campers not interested in getting this messy, there was also a “dry run” path down to gym.

There, our friend and local DJ Marcus had his light show and sound system set up for a fantastic color dance party. We had glow sticks and more glow paint to make the whole event even more brilliant. For the next 2 hours, we all had a great time dancing and jumping around, posing for silly photos, laughing and singing along to the pumping pop music, Only the occasional pause for a drink of water slowed us down.

Camp Color Dance Girls
Color Dancing Girl

And these girls know how to dance!  Maybe with no boys around and feeling more at ease generally, we had campers and counselors really working up a sweat. Here again, we have all these girls enjoying the freedom to be themselves, and experiencing first-hand, that doing so is a complete blast!

Camp color light dancing

Constantly Crafty

Camp girl smiling in yellow kayak with yellow helmet and pfdToday at the lake several senior girls spent time working on their kayaking roll. They practiced the technique used to roll a kayak back upright after flipping upside down. As I’m sure you can imagine, these narrow whitewater kayaks, while being designed to cut through the water easily, are also prone to tipping. When a kayaker hits a river rapid and surfs over or through a wave, there’s a fine line between balancing just right and leaning so far that, in an instant, you’re upside down. At that point, there are two options: you can abandon ship and swim free of the boat by popping the grab loop on your spray skirt (doing what’s called a “wet exit”), or you can twist and snap your hips, and use your paddle to push against the water to roll back upright. Learning to roll is a tricky set of coordinated moves that requires a fair bit of practice to perfect. And practicing takes dedication and determination because it involves spending lots of time upside down in the lake. Some of these girls want to “get their roll” so badly, they will sign up for extra time practicing during their free periods (just before lunch, for example). Reports from the paddling staff are that a couple of girls have gotten it! Next week we’ll offer another kayaking trip to the Nantahala giving the girls a chance to try their new rolling skills in moving water.

If you’ve been following the photos posted each day in our photo gallery, you probably have a sense of how constantly crafty we are at Rockbrook. There are arts and crafts everywhere, and the girls are creating some really cool stuff. In the Hobby Nook cabin, for example, the campers in “Folklore” are finishing pillow dolls, each unique with different scraps of fabric sewn together, stuffed with polyester fluff, and decorated with buttons and yarn. Both ceramics studios have been phenomenally productive as well. The girls there are making bird houses, throwing mugs on the wheel, and sculpting whistles (yes, that actually work!) shaped like turtles and other animals (I think I saw a dragon too). The Hodge Podge girls have been unveiling spectacular tie-dye t-shirts, each with complex designs— hearts, spirals, stripes, and even smiley faces —and psychedelic color patterns. Over in “KIT” (“Keep in Touch”), the campers have been busy making cards, beautiful folded greeting cards from fancy ornate papers, fun stickers and stamps. And the weavers in Curosty continue to amaze. Their work is simply gorgeous.  When you see the armload of crafts your daughter has created, the products of her creativity and imagination, you will definitely be impressed.

Camp girl's cute sewing project Clay snail made at camp Girls holding cards made at camp

Tonight’s evening program was another surprise special event, a square dance with the boys of Camp High Rocks. After dinner, with hair and teeth thoroughly brushed, we loaded all of our seniors into 4 vans and 3 buses for the short trip up the mountain to High Rocks, while simultaneously, they transported their younger boys down to Rockbrook to hold a dance in our gym. Having two dances allows us to handle all these children! Stepping out of the van at High Rocks, one girl may have been feeling a little nervous because she turned to me and said, “I forgot what it feels like to be around boys.” It didn’t take long, though, for everyone to be smiling and having fun. With these nice girls, and the boys equally so, the whole event was lighthearted, even a little goofy as they giggled after “messing up” and grabbing the wrong arm or spinning in the wrong direction.

We took a short break after about an hour for brownies and lemonade… a chance to mingle a bit and recharge for a few more dances. On the drive home, one senior in my van said she had a great time, even enjoying the dance more than the “regular” dances we have with other camps. Bluegrass might not be their favorite genre of music, but these girls appreciated the chance to talk with the boys, and to “have something to do,” as one senior put it. For all the best reasons, it was a wonderful evening.

Square Dancing Children Camp square dancinf kids

Summer Campers square dancing

Colorful Treasures

Child glazing a pottery teapotThe glazes are out! In both pottery studios at camp, the girls have now finished many of their pieces— the bowls, soap dishes, textured tiles, cups, mugs, and plenty of sculpted animals —and are excited to give them a little color.  There are 25 or so different colors to select and then paint onto their clay creations before Katie and her pottery staff carefully stack them into the kilns for firing.  That’s where everything is transformed into beautifully shiny (now colorful) works of art.  Glazes blend together, maybe drip and run a little, and change color quite dramatically, so it’s never 100% predictable what a glazed piece of pottery will look like when it emerges from the kiln. It’s so exciting to find out! Later in the week, after everything is fired, we hold a big “Pottery Pick Up” day for the girls to come claim their work.  All the finished pieces are laid out on tables so everyone can relish the creativity and see the huge variety of items the campers have produced over the session.  Don’t be surprised if you have a box of pottery treasures to transport home next week.

Kids Camp Canoe TripThe weather this morning was so wonderful, Emily decided to announce a canoe trip on the French Broad River. Warm sunshine is always an inspiration for a paddling trip and today that was true too because it took very little time to fill the trip with 12 excited Juniors. Also, the girls were enthusiastic to get out on the river after learning their canoe strokes on the lake. They paddled a section of the river right near camp, a short section that kept them on the water for about an hour and a half… just about the right amount of time. Canoeing is one of the adventure activities that Rockbrook has offered since its founding. It’s one of the classic outdoor pursuits that, with this kind of introduction, can become a lifelong treasured hobby.

Children at summer camp square dancingAfter last week’s Saturday night dance, we changed it up tonight and held a square dance with the boys at Camp High Rocks, which is located just up the mountain from Rockbrook. You might think that going to a square dance would require less primp and prep, but there’s still hair to braid, plaid to find, and for some, boots to brush. We held 2 dances simultaneously, one at our gym for the older girls and the other outside on the High Rocks tennis courts. The idea of square dancing with boys can cause a little anxiety… not really knowing how to do it… having to hold hands! …but everything is lighthearted, and after all, part of the fun is making mistakes and laughing when you spin the wrong direction or grab the wrong hand. The counselors are dancing too, so this also helps the campers relax and enjoy themselves.  In the end, despite being a little new to everyone, and maybe a little challenging as a result, we had a wonderful evening.

Unconditional Support

Folks who arrive at Rockbrook are often struck by how being here, even for a short visit, feels so different from ordinary life. “Everyone is so friendly and enthusiastic,” and “Everyone seems so happy” are comments we often hear. It’s true; camp life is charged with a special form of community energy, one defined by caring, compassion, and kindness.

Girls supporting each other
Walking around camp today, I thought of another reason to explain this deeply felt contentment the girls enjoy here at Rockbrook. It’s because the collective spirit here, our “Rockbrook Spirit,” provides all of us unconditional support. Everyday, no matter the activity or the outcome, we know that our “true self” will be accepted, appreciated and respected by those around us. Rockbrook is simply a friendly and welcoming place where everyone is included, encouraged and supported. We’ve written before how camp is an antidote for “Community Deficit Disorder,” and as such is also a source of great contentment for girls. They will tell you “it’s so much fun,” or that they simply “love it,” but I think it’s this community spirit that’s really at work.

Zip Line SwingCanopy Tour Bridge KidEveryday at Rockbrook includes adventure too. It might be hiking through the woods, climbing a rock face, paddling a canoe, or even facing something personally challenging like jumping off the diving board at the lake. This morning at breakfast, Christina announced that she would be taking groups of girls down our zipline throughout the day. Campers from all three age groups could sign up for an activity period (instead of whatever activity they had already scheduled) and take a couple of zippy rides in the woods high above the back of the camp. These two photos nicely evoke what this entails: some special equipment, walking across a high, rather wiggly, plank suspension bridge, and flying along a steel cable on a pulley. It’s at first a little scary to step off the launching rock, but with en-couragment and support, it’s all smiles in the end.

Perhaps a different kind of adventure, the evening’s activity got everyone excited, the kind of top-of-your-lungs screaming excitement that happens around here— a dance with the boys of Camp Carolina.  In fact, we held two simultaneous dances, the Juniors and Middlers staying here in our gym to dance with the younger boys, and our seniors loading up buses to drive over for their dance in Camp Carolina’s dining hall. We also made a “Dance Alternative” activity available for those girls who thought dancing wasn’t their thing. Overall these dances are fun for the girls because they are mostly about jumping around with your friends, being silly and singing to the music. They are the kind of lighthearted entertainment we all enjoy.

Camp Girls Dance Camper Dance Moves Girls Camp Dance