Brimming with Emotion

“How did we come to meet pal?
What caused our paths to blend?
‘Twas fate we came to Rockbrook,
And you became my friend.”

As the song prompted, that was the question we all pondered tonight at our final campfire of the session, the “Spirit Fire.” Dressed in our red and white uniforms and gathered on the locust-wood benches, we couldn’t help but realize that something miraculous had occurred over these last few weeks. We have become friends, camp friends, forming the kind of close friendships that are so real and meaningful they are brimming with emotion.

closing campfire speakers

The Spirit Fire tonight released that emotion. As girls stood to talk about how lucky they feel to have attended Rockbrook, how grounded and free they feel here, each and every one also marveled at the friends they had made. Sharing this much together— the songs and muffins, the skits and the goodnight circles —brought us together. These camper and counselor reflections, combined with the traditional songs sung— “Nothing is Better than This,” “The Streams and the Mountains,” and “The Spirit of Rockbrook,” for example —set off waves of melancholy for some of the girls. Tears and softly checked sobs became contagious as everyone became more aware that our camp days this summer were ending and that we would soon have to say goodbye to our friends.

girl camp friends

When Sarah spoke, she reminded us that coming to Rockbrook was a journey of discovery. It has been a time away from home that included meeting many wonderful, kind people, that sometimes presented us challenges to overcome, but also opened up new stripes of our personality. It has encouraged us to play, to be silly and creative, and to grow more comfortable with our true selves. Her hope, she said, is that we would find ways to be “Rockbrook Girls” once we return home. If it feels this good to be a Rockbrook girl here at camp, then perhaps at home we can be the same.

I believe your girls will do just that.  You’ll see their Rockbrook spirit now and then, a flash of confidence, kindness, or enthusiasm.  It may be subtle, but you’ll be able to tell they’ve grown. I hope you’re as proud of them as we are. This wonderful session has proved it.

candle ceremony kid

Focused and Celebrated

wizard of oz camp cast
beware of the dangerous woods

Producing and performing a stage musical ordinarily takes a group of people hours of rehearsal over several months, unless, that is, it’s a group of Rockbrook Camp girls at work. Today we witnessed the powerful talent of these girls when they presented their production of “The Wizard of Oz.” With only about two and half weeks to prepare, the girls put on an amazing show complete with characters, costumes, music, singing, and stage acting.  The familiar storyline made it even more enjoyable to see our friends from camp —”I know her!”— dress as Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin man, the Lion, and the Wicked Witch of the West… and Toto too.  Likewise, it was delightful to hear the girls sing favorite songs like “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead,” “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” and “If I Only Had a Brain.”

During the intermission, more campers took the stage as the different age groups took turns performing a choreographed group dance. There was such enthusiastic support for all of these performers, as the crowd of campers watching cheered and clapped spontaneously.

Both in the dance performances and in the play, the girls seemed poised and relaxed, happily following the choreography and delivering their lines. It was clear they were having a grand time, slyly giving each other a smile at times, laughing at their minor missteps, and loving the attention and admiration from the audience. Wonderful!

girl camper friends

Later in the evening as the sun began to set, the whole camp gathered at Vesper rock dressed in their uniforms for the closing campfire of the session. It’s a tradition, our “Spirit Fire,” that goes back to the very first summer when Nancy Carrier founded Rockbrook. She knew, and we continue to acknowledge, that when girls spend this much time together, build this much meaning together, grow this close, they need a way to express their feelings about camp before departing. The program of the Spirit Fire, for this reason, is a series of traditional camp songs, and speeches delivered by campers and counselors, with Sarah wrapping everything up. The setting is gorgeous— nearby the lake, surrounded by huge trees, with crickets and frogs chirping their calls over the crackling fire. Tonight it was also emotional as several speakers described Rockbrook as the only place were they feel accepted enough to be fully themselves. But mostly, we heard about how the people here at camp are so special, in ways vastly different than friends at home. For these girls, camp is different.  And that’s a very good thing.

The final part of the Spirit Fire program is a candle lighting ceremony. Sarah lights a white candle from the fire and then passes that flame to every camper as they file by. Slowly, with lit candles in hand, the whole camp then forms a line around the lake. Facing inward, singing softly, it’s a last moment of quiet reflection to end the night.

Looking out over the candle reflections in the water, we all felt it tonight. We all knew this has been a wonderful session. The spirit of Rockbrook, focused and celebrated during the campfire, has affected us all, connecting us profoundly to this place and to each other.

rockbrook camp closing campfire

Getting Back to Basics

Tonight two junior cabins embarked on their very own Junior Overnight. This special trip is reserved just for our youngest campers, and the girls get to venture a short distance into the woods with their counselors, make s’mores, sing campfire songs, and hear stories. For some of our youngest girls, the Junior Overnight is their only opportunity to leave camp and sleep outside, and it’s a major highlight of the session for them.

The announcement was made during dinner: “Junior One and Five cabins, what’re your plans for tonight?!” The two groups looked puzzled being asked this question in front of the entire camp, completely unprompted. “We don’t know… ,” said one girl in the back. “YOU’RE GOING ON YOUR JUNIOR OVERNIGHT TONIGHT!!!” As soon as I declared the news, the girls squealed with excitement. Their time had finally come!

Junior girls camping

The girls wiggled into their pajamas and packed after dinner, running up to their cabins as they remembered water bottles, bug spray, or a critical stuffed animal before we left. Once we made it out to the outpost, I immediately started making the fire. One curious camper asked me to explain each step, which I was thrilled to do. Afterwards, the campers inhaled some s’mores and learned some new songs, including my personal favorite, the Cider Song.

For bedtime, after some discussion of sleeping arrangements and keeping spiders away, I read the girls a story about a girl who snuck cookies to her pet cow and another about a girl who dreamt of going to the moon. Most of the campers fell asleep before I was asked to tell “a Chelsea original,” which featured a little redbird who traveled the world helping others. 

vintage camping ladies

Full disclosure, I love this trip. My most treasured camp memories involve sleeping outside, eating something by a fire, hearing a funny story from a Director or counselor, and overcoming a little nervousness about a bug potentially crawling on me during bedtime. It was those particular experiences that brought me back as a counselor years later.

The Junior Overnight entails what summer camp is meant to be in its simplest form—quality time with friends in nature, away from modern conveniences. In my opinion, for these reasons, the simple little trip also celebrates the very reasons Rockbrook was founded.

Fun is for Sharing

muffins at camp rockbrook

You probably already know about our daily muffins, about how we have a baker who arrives early in the morning to bake a surprise flavor of muffin for everyone at camp to enjoy around 11am. It’s an exciting, homemade snack between activity periods that’s a highlight of the day for many of us. Word spreads pretty fast once the Hi-Ups pass the first muffin through the window on the dining hall porch, like today when a brand new flavor appeared: Cookie Crumble. They were amazing! Just look at them… huge chunks of Oreo cookie pieces in a soft vanilla muffin. Needless to say, all the extras seemed to disappear without a crumb remaining.

horse camp leading

One of the coffee mugs here at camp —no doubt acquired at some point from the local Goodwill store— has three cartoon animals, a bear, a dog and a sheep, playing jump rope together, and proudly declares in red letters, “Fun is for Sharing.” More than just a cute mug, its message seems particularly true here at camp. After all, we share just about everything here and have great fun doing it. Like every true community, we do so much together— eat our meals, play, and create. We interact with each other all day, have conversations, communicating our insights, joys and frustrations. We wake and sleep at the same time. We open up to each other sharing our emotions, supporting each other with caring and compassion. We share the work of camp life too— setting up and cleaning up. While there are moments when we might enjoy time by ourselves, like reading on the hill or making a friendship bracelet in a porch rocking chair, more than likely we’ll be having fun with someone else or a group of people. Camp fun is inevitably shared fun.

summer camp free swim

Camp life is likewise a wonderful tangle of heart-felt relationships. It’s more fully human in that way. By always including others, by beginning with the ties of community, it helps us develop personal qualities that thrive in company. It provides real evidence of just how rich the world can be when it includes a range of perspectives, the unexpected quirks, and creative ideas offered by others. Life lived closely with others, as it is here at camp, is inevitably a source of humor, surprise, and many kinds of intense feelings. Never bored, we’re connected instead. Sure, being upset can sometimes be part of this community life, but with a basis of caring, kindness and generosity, we can work through that struggle too.

All good stuff, but there’s a habit that can form from all of this experience, and it’s a habit that I think you’ll appreciate. Maybe it survives only as a hunch, or a faint memory after the intensity of living in the camp community, but it’s this; being with others is the way to have fun. If you’re bored, then get together, be close. Rich entertainment comes through personal relationship. Camp teaches this lesson because we live it everyday. Our fun is that much better because we’re with others, not abstracted through an electronic device or flickering screen. So when you’re bored, do you reach for a screen, or do you look for a conversation with a real person? “Social” media is at best a weak substitute for real sharing, real fun. Maybe there’s not always someone around, but whenever there is, it can be fun. I hope that’s a hunch that can inspire us long after camp.

country costume camp counselors

An example of this collective spirit happened tonight during our evening program when we held an all-camp campfire with an Appalachian mountain theme. This sort of campfire program is a tradition of sorts at Rockbrook called “Jug Band.” Akin to the old television show Hee-Haw, the counselors planned a variety show of songs, musical performances, skits and jokes. Of course, we included costumes and invited everyone to dress up with bandanas, overalls, hats and anything “country” they could think of. We sang lots of songs, like “Mountain Dew,” “She’ll be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain,” and “Wagon Wheel,” for example. The campers helped tell some of the jokes too: “Why was 6 afraid of 7? …Because seven ate nine!” Sarah made an appearance dressed as “Granny” and helped lead several of the songs. Here in the mountains of western North Carolina, set in woods beside huge rocks and ancient trees, and glowing from the campfire light, we sang and laughed together into the night. Yes, it was a lot of fun. What could be better?

summer camp girl friends

Truly Meaningful

Camp Uniform Girls
Spirit Fire Candle Lighting
Spirit Camp Fire Line UP

As we romp through our days here at Rockbrook, dressing up, singing zany songs, laughing and smiling more than not, it’s easy to forget that a big part of what fuels this exuberance is something quiet and deeply emotional. There are feelings at work here, feelings of kindness, caring and generosity that have defined our camp community, and it’s these positive feelings for each other, deep down, that make what we do so much fun. How much we all love camp deepens as this “Rockbrook Spirit” grows, drawing us all-the-closer each day.

Tonight during our closing “Spirit Fire,” we witnessed just how powerful these feelings are for your girls. How they sat (arm and arm, as closely as possible), what they said (about the friendships and personal confidence they’ve discovered at camp), and how many of them were moved to tears during the campfire —made it clear how truly meaningful this session of camp has been. Since 1921, Rockbrook girls have closed their sessions in this way, paying tribute, essentially, to each other, recalling that the personal strides they’ve experienced, while derived from inner courage, were largely made possible by the support they felt from their friends.

It was beautiful to see, girls of all ages expressing their gratitude, gathered around a fire, with stars and tall trees all around. The evening closed with Sarah lighting a candle from the campfire, and everyone then lighting their own small white candle. Guided by only candlelight, all the campers and their counselors then formed a line around the lake, facing inward. With crickets and frogs punctuating their soft singing, and golden candlelight reflecting off the lake, the whole scene was just gorgeous. There’s just no better way to affirm what camp means to us, and to mark the great session we just shared.

Shoulder to Shoulder

Willy Wonka JR Camp Play

This afternoon the entire camp, plus a few of the invited parents of girls performing, gathered for a special event in the gym, which, like last night’s banquet, was the culmination of creativity and hard work spread over many days during the session. It was this session’s camp musical, Willy Wonka JR! Throughout the session the cast members have been learning songs, rehearsing choreographed dances, and memorizing lines for the main characters in this well-known story of Charlie and his quest for a golden ticket to tour the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory. We had campers of all ages playing the main parts: Willy Wonka, Charlie, Grandpa Joe, Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, Mike Teevee, and an entire crew of Oompa-Loompas complete with orange skin and green hair. The songs were wonderful too— “Cheer Up Charlie,” “Pure Imagination” and the “Candyman,” standing out as favorites. Watching the performance, I could really tell the girls were enjoying themselves. Thanks to everyone, particularly the drama instructors, for making it an enjoyable afternoon for everyone!

Campfire Closing Night of Camp
Camp Spirit Candle Girl

We closed the day, and the session, tonight as Rockbrook girls have closed their session every summer since the camp was founded in 1921— with a special campfire we call our “Spirit Fire.” Different from the zany exuberance we’re more accustomed to around here, this is a chance to slow down a little, clean up a little (We wear our “whities” uniforms.) and enjoy a campfire together paying tribute to the experiences we’ve shared, the deep relationships we’ve formed, and the personal strides we’ve made together at camp. The scene is beautiful— counselors and campers gathered around the fire, squished shoulder-to-shoulder, maybe sitting on a welcome lap, inching as close as possible together, stars and tall oaks high above, crickets chittering about, all glowing a dim orange from the fire and nestled in the woods we have come to know and love so well. Adding to this are the traditional songs sung as part of the Spirit Fire program. Here’s a 1-minute recording of a song from last night.

The program also included campers and counselors from each age group presenting short speeches summarizing how they feel about Rockbrook and relating what they’ve learned during the session. Sarah also spoke, tonight giving everyone a challenge to enliven their “Rockbrook Spirit,” their kindness and generosity of attitude, their authentic selves, back home and at school. We closed the Spirit Fire with everyone lighting their own small white candle and forming a row around the lake, singing softly. With the water reflecting candlelight back onto everyone’s faces, surrounded by all these friends, and filled with so many great memories from the last few weeks together, this was an emotional, beautiful moment. I can’t think of a better way to mark the great camp session we’ve had together.

It’s Jug Band!

Kids make tie-dye t-shirts at summer camp

When girls select the craft activity we call “Hodge Podge,” they learn what could be described as a camp tradition: how to make a tie-dye t-shirt. Made popular in the 1960s, but before that practiced in West Africa for centuries, tie-dying found its way to summer camps. And judging by all the stripes, swirls and ribbons of color seen on t-shirts around camp, that tradition of using dye to decorate clothing is clearly still strong at Rockbrook. The process starts by soaking your cloth (usually a t-shirt, but anything cotton will do… Socks, bandannas, or pillow cases, for example) in a solution of urea which helps keep the cloth damp when the dye is applied. Next the cloth is twisted, folded or tied with rubber bands into repeating patterns like spirals, v-shapes, or bullseyes. Then, using plastic squirt bottles, you carefully drip different water-based colored dyes onto the cloth. After a day of letting the dye “set,” is very exciting to untie the cloth and discover how the dyes have blended and been absorbed differently where the rubber bands were tight. As you can see from this photo, the result are eye-popping!

Kids Summer Camp Canoeing Trip

This morning Andy and Emily led a group of campers on a canoe trip down a short section of the French Broad River. This river has its headwaters near the town of Rosman (still in Transylvania County, where Brevard is the county seat) not far from camp, and as it slowly grows in size, it passes by the Rockbrook Camp property adjoining several of our horseback riding pastures. This is very convenient because it allows us to begin a canoe trip upstream, and, as was the case today, paddle to a point on camp property to take out. There are several public places to put on the river so we can run a shorter or longer trip depending on the skills of the paddlers and the amount of time we have available. Today the girls had excellent sunny weather and spent a good hour and a half out on the water. The French Broad ultimately forms the Tennessee River, and from there leads to the Ohio, and finally the Mississippi River. So I suppose if we had enough time (i.e., probably a few months), Rockbrook girls could start at camp and paddle all the way to New Orleans!

Young kids happy at summer camp

Another event at Rockbrook that has become a tradition is a visit to the local ice cream stand known as “Dolly’s Dairy Bar” or just “Dolly’s” for short. I would guess every child in the area, certainly all the children at Rockbrook, believes Dolly’s has “the best ice cream in the world,” as one camper assured me. So it’s a big deal to stop and sample one of the unique flavors offered, flavors named after the 20 or so nearby summer camps. For example, there is “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion,” “Falling Creek Fantasy,” “Green River Plunge,” and so forth. Each of these camp flavors is a different combination of ice cream and toppings already mixed in, and they are wonderful. Today after lunch we took two cabins of Junior campers to Dolly’s and had a grand time sitting outside licking our cones and posing for photos (often with freshly signed— by Dolly herself —stickers). Ultimately, the idea of making an “ice cream mustache” caught on and got a little messy, but that’s the kind of fun that’s easily cleaned up with a few napkins in the end.

Campfire mountain music songs

Our evening program tonight was something we call “Jug Band,” an all-camp campfire that included live music and costumes in the spirit of traditional, though in a “Hee-Haw” inspired way, Appalachian culture. The counselors and campers dressed in their best overalls, straw hats, and flannel, braided their hair in pigtails, and painted freckles on their cheeks to complete the look. With three guitars, a banjo, ukelele and plenty of makeshift instruments like shakers and other “jugs” to play, we enjoyed a program of sing-a-long songs punctuated by jokes and short skits. “She’ll be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountian,” “Mountain Dew,” and “Wagon Wheel” were the clear favorites, even inspiring some dancing as well as singing. With the crickets chirping along and the occasional bullfrog from the lake contributing a note now and then, the whole camp sounded great. Great camp fun, and an excellent way to end the day.

Costumes and Silliness at costume campfire

Immensely Meaningful

Packing to go home from camp, as the girls did this morning, is a little like getting ready for camp, just a lot less orderly. For example, there’s no “repacking list,” no careful accounting of t-shirts and socks, and no folding of anything whatsoever. Instead, there is some effort at gathering their belongings, fighting the force of entropy (which is only magnified by any group of children), and then plenty of determined stuffing. The goal is simply to shove everything back into the trunk, suitcase or duffle bag and get it closed with only a couple of loose items like crazy creek chairs, pillows and stuffed animals, for example. Of course, not everything makes it back, and despite our regular “lost and found fashion shows” in the dining hall, we are always left with a sizable pile of forgotten items. When your girls return home, and if you are missing something special, please contact our office so we can search that pile for you. We’ll be happy to return it.

Scene from camp musical

This afternoon, all of the campers and counselors, along with several invited parents of cast members, assembled in the gym, literally packed the house, to see this session’s camp musical production of The Jungle Book. Using just a simple set of painted jungle vines, flowers and other vegetation, the girls transformed themselves into the familiar characters: the singing bear, Baloo, the boy who was raised in the jungle, Mowgli, the python Kaa, the frightening tiger Shere Khan, the girl from the village, Shanti, and a host of monkeys and elephants. The girls had only a couple of weeks to rehearse all of the songs, choreography, and speaking parts, so to perform like this was impressive. They all did a great job singing the classic Jungle Book songs like “I Wanna Be Like You” and the “Bare Necessities.”

Every summer since 1921 when Rockbrook was founded, the campers and their counselors have joined the directors for a final campfire, a special gathering held at the end of each session we call the “Spirit Fire.”

Campfire girls dressed in white
Camper and counselor at closing campfire


This is a more ceremonial occasion when we wear our red and white camp uniforms, sing many traditional songs, and reflect upon our time together at camp.

For many of us, and especially tonight since this was our last Spirit Fire of the summer, this is an emotional time. There’s just something about the setting that brings out the strong feelings we have for each other… dusk fading to dark, the crackle and heat of the campfire, sitting tightly side by side with arms around shoulders, the sweet sound of everyone singing softly, and the candle-lit procession around the lake as its conclusion. The entire evening is ineffably beautiful, and immensely meaningful.