Better Than You Can Imagine

As we said goodbye to our July Mini I campers today (we miss you already!), many of us took the chance to look back on the last two weeks at camp and celebrate all the memories we made together. The night before campers leave is a perfect time to reminisce on the session — the whole camp comes together for one of our oldest traditions, Spirit Fire. We gather at the campfire circle at Vesper Rock, which overlooks our beautiful lake. As the sun sets, we sing classic Rockbrook songs and listen to fellow campers and counselors speak about what their time at camp has meant to them. Once it’s completely dark, the directors begin lighting candles!

We circle the lake, lit by candlelight, and enjoy our last moments together. Spirit Fire is one of my favorite traditions at Rockbrook. My favorite part is listening to what each speaker has to offer. Campers from each line speak — a perfect mix of new and returning girls. Some are funny, some are sweet, some are wise, and all are perfect in their own ways. As we said goodbye to our mini-session campers last night, one counselor perfectly captured the feel of Rockbrook, no matter whether it is your first year or you’ve been coming to camp for as long as you can remember.

“It can be hard to take it all in. That’s why my favorite thing to do at Rockbrook is close my eyes. The first time I remember doing this was a spirit fire. I shut my eyes, soft singing still in my ears, and when I opened them I could see all the candles reflected in the lake and all the faces that looked like they were glowing from within. There are moments like that here, that feel so bright it’s overwhelming. It helps if you close your eyes and try to absorb as much as possible…Then, when it’s winter and I’m home, I can close my eyes and picture it all again, knowing that when I’m really there, it’s better than I can imagine.” – Miriam Ellis

We can’t wait to see all our July Mini I campers again next year, but for now, close your eyes and picture all your favorite moments again. And for our Mini II campers coming on Sunday, we can’t wait to see you! Whether you’ve been to Rockbrook before or not, I can promise that no matter what, it’ll be better than you can imagine.

A Day of Hugs

Closing our long session of camp, as we did today, is always emotional, and often a tearful experience for all of us— campers, staff members, and parents too. Combined with the happiness of reuniting with family members, today brought on a sudden sadness from realizing that everything we’ve been loving about camp is ending… at least for now. Today we had to say goodbye to the freedoms of camp, to all the action, the silliness, creativity and adventure built into everyday of the last few weeks, but more intensely, to all the wonderful people of camp, to the love and support everyone cherishes about life at Rockbrook. There are friends here, true friends who we will miss deeply even as we know that camp will always welcome us back. It’s been a day of hugs, where we try to embrace, for just a moment longer, how Rockbrook feels and what it truly means.

It’s really a difficult thing to describe, but here’s a lovely message from a parent that speaks to it:

kaitie U. From 2007

I cannot believe that 10 years have passed since we first made our way up the gravel driveway to camp. It really did not dawn on me until Kaitie came home that this was her last year as a Rockbook Camper. She loves her special time there so much, I guess I thought it would just go on forever. Until I read her statement that she gave at Spirit Fire and saw the tear stains on the ink, I didn’t fully appreciate how much this summer meant to her. I was touched by the raw emotion she expressed and the anxiety she feels about the possibility of never returning again in the same capacity. Rockbrook is more than just a “camp” that she goes to for a few weeks every summer. Rockbrook is a part of the fabric of her very being. It is a part of her philosophy of living. She sees the world through the eyes of a 7 year old little girl who found her way through the heart of a wooded mountain, cabin by cabin, to become the amazing young woman she is today. I find it difficult to put into words…it is the way she stands, the way she walks and the smile on her face when she speaks of this special place that is hers. I cannot thank you enough for everything you have given her.

I hope you have a great rest of the summer. Know that she is thinking of you every single day. I cannot imagine better thoughts.

Laurie Uebelhoer

Thanks everyone for a great session! We’re all looking forward to when we can see you again at Rockbrook.

Blurred Emotions

Camp Girls OnlyIt’s hard to say goodbye, but it’s especially difficult to leave good friends, and even more so when it may be a whole year before you see them again. That’s how we all felt this morning as the first July Mini Session campers finished their time at Rockbrook this summer— a little melancholy, wistful, even confused about what to do next. For everyone at camp, today marked a change. The Full Session girls suddenly had fewer camp companions, making most things feel oddly vacant, and the Mini Session girls were abruptly returned to the “real world” as parents began arriving by car. Reuniting with family members (parents, siblings and pets!) while simultaneously departing from their camp community… it can be an intense blur of emotions. As the goodbyes spread across the morning, it was very clear to me that these girls will miss each other. We hope the many wonderful memories gained this session will sustain their new friendships until next summer. Thanks to everyone, this first July mini session was a great one!

Zipline Camper GirlMeanwhile, camp life carried on at Rockbrook with adventure trips heading out of camp (a whitewater kayaking trip to section IX of the French Broad River for example) and the full array of in-camp activities in action. Both morning activity periods took a full slate of girls through our new zip line course.  This summer we expanded our existing zip course by debuted two new zip lines and two different additional suspension bridges. Now when girls sign up, they spend an hour on the course, zipping high above tall rhododendron bushes, maneuvering over the different bridges, and screaming past the new office building for the 450-foot final zip. The entire course is beautifully harmonized with the natural features of camp, the massive rocks and waterways in the forest here. The first zip, for example, is a gentle ride, about 60 feet in the air, between rock faces that frame Stick Biscuit Falls. The course is truly a special experience. Calling it “scenic” would be a serious understatement, and the girls love it!

Lake Relaxing in the sunWarm summertime weather (high temperatures in the upper 80s) has been inspiring a great deal of activity at the Rockbrook lake lately. Not so much sun bathing —though there’s been some of that too— the girls have been swimming their “mermaid laps” increasing their tallies, inventing crazy poses flying through the air off of the diving board, zooming down “Big Samantha” our water slide, and just relaxing on a tube aimlessly floating in the cool water. Bright warm sunshine and the chilly mountain lake water make a wonderfully refreshing combination. It’s almost irresistible, prompting even several directors to join the crowd of campers getting wet during the open “free swim” periods before lunch and dinner. On days like this, the lake, like the dining hall during meals, is a community meeting place where everyone, campers and staff members, young and old alike, gather to enjoy the water and each others company. It’s a delightful place all day long.

Being Outside

Parents reunite with camp girl
Camper hugs girl to say goodbye from camp

This is one of the toughest days of the whole summer. It’s the morning when we have to say goodbye to the campers enrolled in the First July Mini Session, while the Full Session girls stay at camp for another 2 weeks. It’s tough because we’ve grown so close, the girls seeing each other everyday, signing up for activities together, watching each other’s skits in Evening Program, and simply loving camp life like a big family. In these short two weeks the tiniest 6-year-old juniors have gotten to know the tallest 16-year-old Hi-Ups. We’ll miss these friends and wish they could stay and play. It’s a strange feeling to say goodbye and stay behind. It just doesn’t seem fair because it feels like everyone should be staying. At the same time, this is a happy day for the Mini Session girls’ “real” families because they can finally be reunited after being away. It was so sweet to see the joyful tears as moms and dads embraced their daughters. In some cases, the family dog seemed just as excited as the camper to see each other!

Camp girls rock climbing multi-pitch route

Earlier this morning, perhaps an hour before everyone else arrived for breakfast, a group of girls, led by Andy and Rita, left for a day-long rock climbing trip to a cliff called “Stone Depot” located near Cedar Rock in the Pisgah Forest. They left early because the hike in takes about 40 minutes, and also because they wanted the best odds for missing an afternoon thunderstorm we expected. This was particularly important because this group was planning a “multi-pitch” route. This means climbing the entire party up partway, and then continuing like that in stages, one “pitch” at a time, from ledge to ledge. It’s an advanced technique that takes the climbers much higher up the rock, and naturally for an even more spectacular view of the surrounding mountains. Multi-pitch climbing can take much more time also, especially with a group of people climbing, making it even more important to get an early start. Fortunately, the weather cooperated beautifully and the girls came bounding back to camp with stories of an awesome day being outside on the rock. “You should have seen the view!”

Painting Class Girl at Summer Camp

There are many opportunities to be “crafty” at Rockbrook, from making duct tape purses to decorating headbands with deflated balloons and so on, but the campers can also can improve their more “artistic” talents as well. Here is a good example, our painting and drawing class where the girls work with pencils, pens and charcoal on paper, or perhaps water colors or tempera paints. Today the group met for a water color class outside under the shade of a white oak tree. They first used pencils lightly outlining forms in their composition and then mixed paints with water to make different shades. Part of the fun when painting with water colors is the different washing, blending, and brush techniques that can be combined.  At camp, there’s the added fun of painting outside. The rich organic environment of Rockbrook can provide an almost endless array of subjects to paint. Combine that with the feeling of being outside— the breeze! —and both the process (the painting) and the end result (also, the painting!) will be so much better.

Speaking of being outside, I wanted finally to pass along another article that caught our eye (thanks Leland!). It’s by Angela Hanscom and is entitled, “Why so many kids can’t sit still in school today.” The short article (link) uses mostly anecdotal evidence to link the increase in ADHD diagnoses to the decline of kids’ physical activity outdoors. It’s an intriguing theory, one that may help explain at least one of the reasons camp is so great for kids. It might be another reason to “Play more, Sit less.”

Outdoor Lake Canoeing

Thorough Happiness

Today we closed the First Session of the summer, and from all accounts— from campers, their parents, and staff members alike —it was an amazing few weeks. We heard rave reviews, and received so many complements about how well camp turned out, both exciting the returning campers and pleasing the new campers and their families. The flip-side of this success, however, is that many of the campers were a little teary when their parents arrived to take them home. It’s just hard to say goodbye to these great people, to the freedom of this place, to the life we enjoy at camp. Even as we know Rockbrook will always welcome everyone back, ending a camp session is tough… For all of us.

Girl holding an inch worm

The emotion of this day reminded me again about how deeply meaningful camp is for everyone here. Far beyond the fun, in ways so much more important than the entertainment, camp matters. During the session, parents see in the photo gallery the zany activity of life at Rockbrook, all the songs, activities, and dressing up that goes on, for example, and they can tell their girls are having the time of their lives being kids in this magical place. But it’s on closing day, when they see evidence of the love and support their girls receive in our close community, when they see the tear-filled eyes and the lengthy goodbye hugs, that they understand a little bit how this time at Rockbrook means so much. It’s enough to tug on the emotions of parents and staff members as well, and the next thing you know, we’re all crying while saying goodbye. In these tears, there’s such thorough happiness!

So thank you for sharing your children with us. They truly helped make this session wonderful.

P.S. I’ve been meaning to share an article by Todd Kestin published last August in the Huffington Post entitled, “What’s Needed to Prepare Your Child for the Future? The Answer May Surprise You…”  Here’s the link. You’d be correct to guess the answer is “camp.” He writes, “I believe if kids spent their summers in camp, they’d be better prepared for later decisions like […] how to make the best life for who they are.”  It’s a short tribute to the power of camp to transform children and make a real difference in their lives (gaining confidence and independence, taking responsibility for decisions, and learning to value meaningful relationships). Go check it out. I think you’ll enjoy reading it.

Thanks 2013 Rockbrook Girls!

Summer time happy campersFor everyone at Rockbrook, campers, counselors and full-time directors alike, today was the final day of camp in 2013. After all of these weeks together, after all the fun and excitement of the summer, it’s now time to say farewell to Rockbrook for this year.

Looking back, it’s been an amazing season. Among other things, we’ve learned who we really are, and seen how passion leads to success. We’ve witnessed the power of curiosity and wonder, and even understood a secret to being happy. We’ve truly gained a lot.

There are so many reasons why this has been an excellent summer, why Rockbrook has become such a special place for everyone (and if you’ve been reading this blog, I’m sure you can think of several), but the most important, I would say, is the people, the marvelous girls and staff members who comprised our camp community. It was their care and generosity, their enthusiasm and energy, that sparked the collective spirit infusing our days. It was the people, all those “Rockbrook Girls,” who made this summer spectacular.

So thank you! Thanks everyone! Thank you for being a part of this special place and contributing your love and imagination to its success. We will miss you, but also look forward everyday to seeing you again next summer.

Fondness and Caring

Camp Friends girls cute
At breakfast this morning, which was our last gathering of the session, Sarah stood to deliver a few last minute announcements and reminders. This is typical, but as she looked out at all the girls and their counselors this morning, she was suddenly overcome with emotion, got a little choked up, and had to pause briefly for a breath. During that moment, there wasn’t a peep from any of us, all 275 of us, because we too felt it, a strong sense that we have something very special here. We’ve forged a strong connection with each other, a fondness and caring that feels so good. It was a sweet moment showing that for everyone, not only the campers, but the counselors and directors too, Rockbrook is a wonderful, kind community. It’s a remarkable place, magical in so many ways, where we can share these great feelings of affection.

We’ve had an extraordinary session. So, thank you! Thank you for being a part of the Rockbrook community and for sharing your girls. We will miss them. We’ll all miss each other. And when next summer returns, we’ll all celebrate again.

Nothing Quite Like It

Confident Camp girls

Ending a session of camp, as we did today at Rockbrook, is a strange feeling of heartache because we have to say goodbye to all these amazing people, but also of deep satisfaction because we know we’ve shared something special over these last few weeks. As parents arrived today to pick up their girls, many saw tears and sadness for having to leave their special place, their camp, their haven filled with some of their best friends and so many fun things to do. Rockbrook is for these girls a place where they can be at peace, with themselves and with the people around them. As I hope you’ve sensed from these blog posts and the photo gallery, we stay busy, and usually pretty silly, most of the time around here, and it feels great. All of us know that there’s just nothing quite like camp. So that’s the other feeling coloring today: gratitude. We are all so thankful for simply being together in this magical place, so thankful for this remarkable community we know and love.

So thank you everyone! Thank you for sharing such wonderful girls. Thank you for supporting Rockbrook. Thank you for being a part of our camp family. We will miss your girls, but also look forward to seeing them again next summer.