Robbie Francis from Go Swan Filmworks returned to camp for another day filming this week, and with more of his brilliant editing, produced this fun 2-minute video for us.
Take a look and you’ll see what I mean— these girls love camp.
It’s a comment we hear a lot around here… from perceptive visitors taking a tour while camp is in session, from counselors marveling at simple moments of their day, and certainly from campers as they reflect on how camp feels to them. “Everyone seems so happy,” or “These are some happy girls,” or “Rockbrook makes me happy!” I think I’ve seen it on a t-shirt too; “Camp is my Happy Place.” And it really is true. There’s something special about life at camp that makes everyone here remarkably happy, especially when compared with the outside world. If you have been scanning our daily photo galleries then you have a sense of it. Camp life has a general feeling of well-being, joyful engagement, and belonging.
But here’s the thing— this feeling isn’t dependent on the activities we’re enjoying. It’s not like we’re happy only when kayaking, weaving, riding a horse, hiking through the woods, or playing tetherball. Sure, we are happy when we are doing exciting things like riding through the trees on a zipline, and we are happy when we savor the day’s surprise muffin flavor, but the happiness of camp extends to other times that might, from a different perspective, be described as “work,” or even as “boring.” Camp girls are happy at times “just hanging out,” sweeping their cabin, taking their turn wiping their dining hall table, or simply walking down the line after hearing the bell for lunch.
In other words, the happiness we experience at camp is not the same as the fun. …or even pleasure or satisfaction. Obviously, camp is great fun, regularly punctuated by pleasure, and satisfying in lots of ways. These are the moments we write home about— getting a bullseye in archery, throwing a pot on the wheel, going back for thirds of Rick’s homemade guacamole and chicken flautas. Everyday there are activities and special events designed to be fun and carefully planned to be satisfying and enjoyable (a trip to sliding rock, a drumming workshop, a wet and wild creek hike, or simply singing together during morning assembly, for example). These moments are entertaining and great, and they certainly contribute to the happiness of camp, but they do not alone make camp a happy place. There must be something more going on. If not the fun, what is it about camp life that encourages such happiness?
An idea from Aristotle might be helpful, namely that happiness stems from “meaningful action.” The notion is that happiness is not a momentary, fleeting fulfillment of desires (like escape from boredom, for example), but is instead a way of being where one’s actions are meaningful. What makes our actions “meaningful” becomes the question, but perhaps the secret to camp happiness it that it somehow lends meaning to our actions. What we do at camp means something to us as individuals.
OK, but when camp girls make a friendship bracelet, shoot riflery, or go whitewater rafting, how does it mean something to them? What’s special about camp that makes ordinary actions more “meaningful?” I’m not sure, but as one counselor who I was discussing this with put it, “It’s all about community.” She said what we do at camp means something because we do so much together, and we care for each other.
I love that idea because it suggests the importance of relationships, of beginning with kindness toward each other and fostering an environment where everyone is trusted, respected and loved. Do that, and we create a special place where we’re happy. In this way, I imagine all of our community values— care, cooperation, compassion, generosity —likewise contribute to our happiness by making whatever we’re doing more meaningful. So, being helpful in the dining hall, for example, is meaningful and makes us happy because it deepens our relationship with the other girls in our cabin. Sensing real encouragement and support from the people around you makes whatever you’re doing more meaningful.
There are probably other answers to this question about how camp life includes inherently meaningful action, and how it fosters such happiness, but I think our sense of community here is a powerful force linking the two. If so, we might use the idea prescriptively in the outside world and suggest that instead of adding more toys or more “fun” experiences, we can become happier by joining and supporting a camp-like community where our actions are meaningful. It’s one of the lessons of camp: build positive relationships with the people around you, make your actions meaningful through those relationships, and you’re bound to be happier. Now that’s something to take home!
Today we saw proof just how quickly the girls have both settled down and fired up here at camp. In just a couple of days, most of ambivalence about camp— remember, it’s very different from home —the uncertainties about what each day will be like, the activities, and the other girls in their cabin have for the most part faded and been replaced with understanding, friendship and enthusiasm. The girls now understand the rhythm of camp life: the 120-year camp camp bell and what it signifies, the crucial importance of “Muffin Break” (today’s flavor was mint chocolate chip, by the way), when is the best time to take a shower, that around here singing (loudly!) is highly encouraged, and lying down in your bunk after these incredibly active days feels really good. Now everyone has a buddy or two to romp around with, as well as their whole cabin group to play with at meals, rest hour, and in the cabin before bedtime. It’s also particularly striking how enthusiastic the girls are now for everything happening at camp. Cheers went up when the Nantahala River rafting trips were announced. Everyday, the optional trips are filled: hiking to Black Balsam (one of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi), rock climbing on Castle Rock, and canoeing down the French Broad River, for example. The girls are embracing every aspect of camp finding it both comfortable and thrilling… a little like relaxing in a red rocking chair chatting with friends and whooping with delight while flying through the trees on the zipline. It’s amazing how these Rockbrook girls are having this much fun so quickly and thoroughly.
I’ve been thinking about this, about why girls adapt so well to life at Rockbrook, and I think one important factor is the all-girl environment here… but in a very particular way. The most common thing you’ll hear about the benefits of an all-girl camp or school is that boys are a “distraction” and that removing them allows girls to be less preoccupied with their appearance and how they compare to boys’ abilities. That seems true, but I doubt it’s that simple. An all-girl community also has to embody other, more important principles or the same competition, self-evaluation, and social hierarchies common to mixed gendered groups will color everyone’s interactions and relationships. So, I would say there’s nothing automatically wonderful about an all-girl setting. There has to be something more fundamental also, something that when established and deeply rooted first and then expressed in an all-girl community, we can identify as the secret to camp life at Rockbrook being so easily and eagerly taken to heart.
Perhaps surprisingly, I don’t think it’s the range of activities offered, the mountain environment, the delicious food served, or the top-notch staff members at camp. These too are simply the context for what really makes our camp community work. No, I think the core value defining camp life at Rockbrook is care. It sounds simple, but starting with the relationships we have with each other, striving to reorient them in the spirit of compassion and generosity, is the key. Beginning with our staff members, who were selected because they are genuinely kind, caring people, but also modeled by the directors and specialty activity instructors, everyone at camp is supportive, encouraging and kind toward each other. Whether playing tennis, collaborating on the plan for an evening program skit, or taking turns sweeping the cabin each morning, the people at Rockbrook truly care for each other. It’s this core community value, this practiced ethic applied to our relationships with each other, that gives camp life its special energy.
Being an all-girl environment is important but only as it serves the primary goal of making everyone at camp feel included, equally loved and respected. Perhaps it’s easier for girls to be kind and caring toward each other than it might be toward boys, and that can explain why a girls camp community like Rockbrook enjoys this happy vibe. It’s just a hunch, but I think there’s something to it.
As our first week of camp hit its stride today, the campers seem to have simultaneously relaxed and energized. It makes sense when you think about it. After these first few days, any initial jitters have been calmed by the friendly atmosphere here, the smiling counselors who are always ready to encourage, the overall feeling of openness and acceptance that colors everything. At Rockbrook, there’s simply no pressure to measure up; we don’t compete for awards or recognition for being the best at something. Instead— and this can take a few days for girls to realize —the camp environment, Rockbrook’s culture, substitutes caring for criticism. It finds friendship before judgment, silliness and laughter before concern.
Within the structure of scheduled activities and periods of free time, the girls here have the freedom to try new activities (climbing, shooting, weaving!), to follow their whim meeting and playing with scores of wonderful inspiring people, and to explore what they enjoy, expand what they know, and develop who they are. It’s a strange but wonderful feeling of deep happiness and well being that springs simply from being in this kind of genuine supportive community.
Out of this relaxation bubbles energy and excitement. It’s inevitable; with this freedom comes all sorts of activity, from thrilling outdoor adventure activities like screaming down the RBC zip line course, to the concentration and creativity that combine to tie friendship bracelet patterns. Letting go at camp inspires you to overcome challenges, to join a big group playing gaga ball, for example. It stiffens your nerve at the top of the 50-foot tall water slide. It elevates your voice to sing louder in the dining hall. Suddenly, wearing a crazy costume, or making up a dance with your cabin mates, or lying on the grass in the dark to stargaze, or getting really dirty in the creek— all seem perfectly normal. Relaxing into camp life, fully embracing the contagious kindness of our camp community, is deeply encouraging.
Of course, this all adds up to what the girls simply call “fun.” It’s fun to have friends like this, to be with them all day and night, to get to know each other this genuinely. It’s fun to feel supported by everyone around you, and thereby find the confidence to step far beyond what you thought was your limit. It’s fun to make things, to be this active all day, and laugh this much. It’s fun to exercise your personality so thoroughly, to empower your creativity, your compassion, your awareness of the world around you. It’s fun to have a break from “real life,” from (yes, believe it or not) the distractions of technology, and thereby discover so much to experience and appreciate. The girls will say it was fun to roast s’mores over the campfire, to ride horses, and to swim in the lake, but I think there’s something more fundamental and lasting at work.
Today, after just a few days, it was so entirely clear. For your girls, camp provides the freedom they crave, the challenges they need, and the full-bellied fun they love.
The other day I was talking with a young counselor about camp and whether there was anything about the experience this summer that has surprised her. She had attended camp for 7 years as a camper already, so I was curious if she recognized anything different now that she’s older. She quickly said that she was having a blast with the campers in her cabin, and that she loves being a counselor because she gets to know the girls so well and do so much with them. She was surprised how “intense,” “emotional,” and “fun” camp is.
Put a little differently, life at camp is face to face living. We’re all in this together, sharing everything (costumes, food, pink eye —well, we try not to share that last one!). When we’re at camp we pay attention to each other constantly. We are very close, feel truly connected, to a lot of people. Being at Rockbrook means accepting the intimacy, thrills and challenges of community… but in exchange, building countless heart-felt relationships, deepening our humanity, and yes, having a lot of “fun.”
By making this observation, I think this young woman, without knowing it, was also commenting on ordinary life outside of camp. Essentially, it lacks the closeness, the rich, personal experience that defines our days at Rockbrook. Ordinary American life, generally speaking, is more about individual consumption, privacy, personal advancement, and ego-centric entertainment— all while being mostly blind to the other people around us. As we speed along the course of our lives, tightly tethered to our smartphones, community is too often left in the dust. Feeling dis-connected, bored and alone, can easily be the sad remainder.
There’s an irony to this, too. Think of all the daily technology we utilize ostensibly to be more connected to each other: text messaging, emails, social media posts, and telephone calls. Thanks to modern communication technology, it’s simple to announce what you’re doing, ask someone a question, or look up information. The ease and convenience of using these technologies has made them ubiquitous threads of modern life. At the same time— and here is the irony —it seems they are isolating us as human beings. Sending a text message is a thin gruel compared to the deep feelings that accompany being present with someone you care about. An email conveys only a shadow of its sender. Facebook, despite its attempt to offer a “multimedia experience,” can’t touch the emotions of being with supportive friends. There’s no electronic translation for kindness. If our ordinary lives are increasingly defined by these diminished forms of communication, if we’re left with only these rarefied connections to other people, then, as we become more isolated, our humanity is going to suffer.
Thank goodness for camp! Here we feel more connected than ever despite (maybe because of) giving up our electronic communication devices. For good reason, we unplug to connect more fully to those around us. Life at camp feels good because it begins with wholehearted connections, with the messy and rewarding energy of a community. The contentment your girls feel at camp springs from living face to face, directly and without the filtering “convenience” of technology. It’s providing them proof that having kind, compassionate relationships with other people is a bumpy, fun path to a rich and rewarding life.
Describing camp life, revealing what makes simply being here loved by the girls at Rockbrook, is really difficult. Of course, we try all the time —by writing regular blog posts, and posting hundreds of photos to our online gallery— but the experience is too rich, too complex, and too emotional to convey completely.
Fortunately, there is video, and we have a great one to show you. Robbie Francis of Go Swan Filmworks has been working with us this summer to produce several short videos about Rockbrook. Here is his most recent.
Take a look! You will love it.
P.S. Be sure to have the volume turned up. Hearing camp is amazing!
One twilight, late in July of 1999, I sat on the Rockbrook hill with my counselor, watching the sun sink down behind the mountains.
Well, she was watching the sun. I was too preoccupied with the stream of words pouring uninterrupted from my mouth to give much thought to the scenery.
I had been writing a new story for the past few weeks, and my counselor had made the classic mistake of asking me what it was about. Forty-five minutes later, she was still nodding along, as I explained the great tragedy of the main character’s mother not understanding that taking time to do her homework would distract her from her duties as a spy (what my stories lacked in originality, they more than made up for in melodrama). My counselor asked all the right questions, laughed and gasped in all the right places, and, in all, served as the perfect sounding board for my eight-year-old yarn-spinning. I was delighted.
Today, I remember very little else about the story in question (thank goodness), and even the once-familiar face of my counselor has faded into a half-remembered smile from an old cabin photo. But what I do remember with perfect clarity were the sensations I felt that evening on the hill.
The astonishment at being asked about my story out of the blue.
The shyness with which I began–sure that she only wanted to hear the barest details.
The glee with which I greeted her many follow-up questions.
And, more than anything, the growing realization that she was going to let me keep talking. There was no polite smile, and change of subject as the details of my story got more and more intricate. There was no attempt to steer the conversation to a topic more interesting to her. There was no indication at all that my counselor would rather be anywhere else than right there on the hill, listening to a play-by-play of my story.
My whole life to that point, I had been trained on how best to be a kid in the grown-ups’ world. How to listen to what the grown-ups tell me. How to eat the food the grown-ups put in front of me without complaint. How to entertain myself or play with other kids rather than pester the grown-ups with constant requests for games or entertainment. How to recognize when the grown-ups are discussing something important, and wait my turn. How to be patient, quiet, seen and not heard. How, in short, to be a polite, well-behaved child. And these lessons weren’t a bad thing–they prepared me for the day when I would have to become a well-mannered adult.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that some of these lessons sank in better than others. I was, and still am, rarely seen without also being heard. But I was also always aware of how far I was trespassing beyond the bounds of good manners for a child. Whenever I talked to a grown-up, I would be waiting for the moment when I’d be told that my time was up, so that the grown-up could turn back to whatever grown-up matters there were to occupy their time.
And yet, there I was on the hill, treading far past the dictates of good manners, as I spent ten minutes describing the main character’s relationship with her best friend (and mortal enemy), and my counselor made no move to stop me.
It was during that wonderful hour on the hill, several days into my first session at camp, that I first began to understand the central truth of camp: this is not the grown-up world. It is proudly, defiantly, magnificently not the grown-up world. I was not a guest in this new camp world, there to have Very Important Life Lessons served up for me by the nearest available adult. I was an active participant in this community, able to make my own choices, talk until I was blue in the face, make my own mistakes, and craft my own camp experiences. And every adult in sight was there to make sure I had the time of my life while doing it.
These days, I have the rarer opportunity of being a grown-up at camp. I get to be the guest in kid-world. Whenever I get lost in the logistics of camp–those lists of names, activities, and out-of-camp trips that pass through my hands every day–I can be snapped out of it at any moment by an invitation to a dance party in a lodge, or to the newly opened spa in Junior 3. I can be asked to braid one girl’s hair on the steps of the dining hall, and find myself braiding six others in quick succession afterwards, because why on Earth should I say no?
I get to watch as campers spend the first few days of camp coming into their own, and taking ownership of this new world. I get to see the looks of dawning possibility when they first choose their own schedule for the next three days. I get to see them try the food on the dinner table and, if they decide it isn’t for them, head off to the salad bar to find something more to their liking. I get to see them come alive in kid-world, and realize that, unless their safety or someone else’s is at risk, we won’t hold them back from pushing their limits and experiencing new things.
But my favorite moment to watch will always be those one-on-ones between camper and counselor. When I get to see the moment that the child realizes that her ideas, opinions, and interests are sincerely appreciated by an adult she respects–an adult who will listen without promoting their own ideas as being better informed or more interesting.
That’s the moment when they realize they’ve entered kid-world, and it’s going to be better than they even imagined.
Ah, don’t be so sad! This is the last full day of our second session and that can be a little upsetting, but it’s not because these girls are leaving camp and can’t continue to have the kind of silly fun we’ve been having over these last few weeks. It’s not because they can’t go whitewater rafting, rock climbing, or zip lining any longer. It’s not because they can’t jump in the lake, shoot a rifle or play teatherball, and it’s not because they can’t weave or throw another pot on the wheel. Sure, all the fun things we do at camp are ending for this summer, but what’s really at the source of everyone’s melancholy is having to leave our friends, our new, extraordinarily close camp friends. It’s leaving the people (not the camp activities, cabins or muffins) that’s so difficult. Here at Rockbrook, as we’ve relaxed into our true selves and found caring people despite it all, as we’ve shared so many full experiences together, we’ve grown to appreciate camp as a special place because of its people. So that’s the problem; we have to say goodbye tomorrow to the people at camp. As they sing “I don’t wanna go home” in one of the camp songs, I think they mean “I don’t want to leave these great folks.” It’s how we feel when we’re together; that’s what’s ending with camp, and that’s kinda sad.
Knowing this is the case, we do what we can to make the most of these last hours of camp by sticking together. For example, this afternoon, we all gathered in the gym to enjoy the performance of this session’s musical, The Jungle Book. For some girls, those who had auditioned to be a part of the play, it was time for all the rehearsing— memorizing lines, choreography, and songs —the costumes, and set decorations to be coordinated and presented. For everyone else, it was time to cheer and applaud the hard work and talents displayed. With the whole camp gathered, including a few parents of the cast members, we could sing, clap and celebrate, more enthusiastically than ever.
As has been our tradition for more than 90 years, we closed this final night of camp with a campfire we call the “Spirit Fire.” But for the first time in recent memory, we held the program in the gym because of rain. As is usual, the entire camp dressed in their red and white uniforms, but this time circled around a fire built in a low insulated vessel. So as the rain fell outside, everyone stayed dry and comfortable in their crazy creek chairs singing the traditional Spirit Fire songs and listening to different campers and counselors speak about their experience at camp. By the end of the program, the rain had stopped allowing Sarah and the other directors to light a small white candle for each person, and all of us to circle around the lake for the final few quiet songs. This was another all-camp event that conjured a few tears, and many, many hugs. Like so much at camp, it was charged with emotional energy born from the amazing relationships between your girls and all the wonderful people they’ve met. It’s an astounding thing, and a true privilege to be part of it.
With summer drawing to an end and so many kids returning home from summer camp, Talya Minsberg writes in the New York Times about What Parents Don’t Get About Camp. The piece is partly a fond memory of life at camp for both campers, who “find the joy of growing and exploring on their own,” and as a staff members, who are the “warmest, silliest, most fun (and responsible)” people they can be. It’s one author’s recollection of how summer camp is a magical place bubbling with experiences for positive transformation. The article hints at the features of camp life that make it difficult to describe, that make kids’ stories from camp seem so inadequate— the close friendships, the freedom and independence, how hilarious things were —but in the end suggests it’s OK for parents and noncamp friends to not fully understand “camp.” You have to experience summer camp, to really “get” it.
And since camp is “a place of their own” (as Rockbrook’s mission recognizes), it’s perfectly natural, even preferable, for others to mistake what camp really is, to grasp only a faint sense of what it means to the campers and staff members who live it. We have to agree; it’s hard to describe the magic felt from living like we do at Rockbrook (despite our attempts to describe it all summer long), but that’s just part of it, and in the end, a very good thing.
These Rockbrook girls are crafty. It’s not too surprising given all of the different chances to be creative around here, but it’s also been only a couple of days and there already is artwork just about everywhere, stunning stuff. The looms in Curosty (our fiber arts cabin, built originally in the mid 1800s) are clicking. Both clay studios are producing great textured pieces, with new colorful glazes being brushed on. We’ve seen really cool multi-colored gel-pen headbands. All kinds of friendship bracelets are showing up on girls’ wrists and ankles. The painting and drawing classes are making amazing abstract pieces using a cold hairdryer to blow globs of paint on a canvas. This kind of guided, yet self-directed creativity is so neat to see in action. The girls are making great stuff, and they’re definitely proud of how their work is turning out.
Have you heard about Rockbrook’s “Muffin Break?” It’s a long standing, and much loved, tradition around here. When the camp bell rings to signal the end of the first morning activity period, everyone swings by the dining hall porch to pick up a freshly baked muffin, a yummy snack from the kitchen’s bakers (Alison and Katie). Of course, like so many things at camp, it’s a surprise what flavor the muffins will be each day. Yesterday, we had traditional blueberry, and today, a big favorite, “Sprinkle Muffins.” You’ll certainly hear about favorite muffin flavors when your girls return home. Oh, and one last detail from dinner last night- the amazing apple cake Alison baked for dessert. The cake was perfectly balanced with apple slices and a touch of cinnamon, but she also made a sweet topping from fried bits of apple peel dipped in flour and sugar. There was barely a crumb left!
Today was also the first rafting trip of the summer. Two buses of Middlers and Seniors loaded up, and stopped for a picnic lunch before rafting 8 miles of the Nantahala River. The Nantahala is one of the most popular beginner-level whitewater rivers in the southeast. Rockbrook is fortunate to have one of the few Forest service permits allowing us to take our own trips, hire our own experienced guides and use our own top-of-the-line equipment. Today the weather was warm and sunny, and while we had to wait a bit to get started while a downed tree was removed, the girls had a great time screaming and splashing their way down the river, also falling out the boat at times, but that was part of the adventure.
On the bus ride home, I heard several girls say they were going to “sleep great tonight.” Camp will do that to you. It provides a special kind of complete experience… a life brimming with physical activity, immersed in nature, woven with laughter, revealing unexpected thrills. Yep, it can make you tired, but it feels really good too.
Adventure - Wilderness and outdoor adventure sports for summer camp girls like hiking backpacking kayaking and rock climbing.
Archery - Archery camp activity for girls at Rockbrook includes instruction in equipment care, shooting technique, and scoring.
Arts - Arts camp activities include ceramics, fiber arts, painting, drawing, leatherwork, needle point, beadwork, jewelry making, and crafts.
Camp - Camp provides children unique personal development benefits through its programs, philosophy, traditions and history.
Campers - The campers who attend girls summer camp Rockbrook are 6-16 years old and are primarily from the southeastern United States.
Children - Children ages 6-16 attend summer camps at Rockbrook Camp for Girls in Brevard North Carolina.
Counselors - Counselors work teaching activities and serve as mentors for the children at Rockbrook Summer Camp for Girls.
Dance - Dance, including modern tap jazz and ballet, is a fun way for girls to be active at summer camp.
Drama - Drama activities and producing our camp play provide creative performance opportunities for girls at Rockbrook.
Equestrian - Rockbrook Camp equestrian activities and equine studies form the core of the horseback riding program at camp.
Games - Playing games at camp is a big part of the fun girls enjoy everyday while in their activities and during periods of free time.
Girls Camps - The overnight girls camps at Rockbrook are designed for all girls ages six through sixteen, or 1st through 10th grade.
Gymnastics - Gymnastics camp activities, training, fun and sport are popular with many girls at Rockbrook Summer Camp.
Hiking - Hiking and backpacking in the woods are favorite outdoor activities for the many girls at Rockbrook Camp.
Horseback Riding - Everything about the horseback riding program, horsemanship, and horses at Rockbrook summer camp for girls.
Kids - The kids sleepaway summer camps at Rockbrook provide big fun, constant creativity and adventure for kids ages 6 through 16.
Nature - Daily encounters with Nature and the natural world provide rich opportunities for girls to expand their imagination at summer camp.
News - News updates about the latest happenings, events and surprises at Rockbrook Sleepaway Summer Camp for Girls.
North Carolina - Information about Rockbrook's North Carolina camps, regional and statewide camp facilities and features.
Outdoors - Rockbrook is an outdoors summer camp for girls with outdoor adventure activities offered in nearby wilderness areas, forests and woods.
Rafting - The whitewater rafting, boating and paddling trips to local rivers are popular adventure activities at Rockbrook summer camp for girls.
Riflery - Riflery and marksmanship activities including safety and shooting techniques at Camp Rockbrook for Girls.
Rock Climbing - The rock climbing, bouldering, traditional climbing for girls, kids, children and teens at summer camp Rockbrook.
Summer Camp - Information, thinking and ideas about summer camp drawn using examples from Rockbrook Camp for girls located in the mountains of Brevard, North Carolina.
Swimming - Swimming games, swimming lessons, and diverse water activity fun at girls' summer camp Rockbrook
Tennis - Tennis, tennis instruction, tennis games, tennis fun sport camp activities and info for camp Rockbrook