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.

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 Swing
Canopy Tour Bridge Kid

Everyday 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

Small Scale Richness

Camp Kitchen Girl
Camp Girl Cooking

Looking around camp these past couple of days, and if you’ve been following along in the photo gallery, it’s amazing to see so many engaged, smiling girls doing so many different things. It’s almost impossible to describe them all! Of course there are the different organized, scheduled activities like rock climbing, tennis, gymnastics, or making tie-dye t-shirts, but there are also so many simpler, more spontaneous moments when the girls find themselves delighted and charmed. They might be wading in the creek, turning over a rock to “see what’s under there,” chatting with a new friend sitting in a pair of red rocking chairs, or simply walking with a caring counselor to lunch. Part of the magic of camp derives from these moments when we share experiences and grow closer, when we encounter something wonderful or create something beautiful together. It’s this kind of “small scale richness” that really strengthens our community, and make camp so special.

So here’s an idea, and a great example of this richness… Let’s take a group of 1st and 2nd grade girls and let them make samosas for the whole camp! That’s exactly what Rick, our head chef, did this afternoon. He and our baker Katie prepared the dough from scratch and cooked up the filling (potatoes, turmeric, cumin, coriander, salt, and yogurt) beforehand, so the girls could help assemble the individual turnovers. With bright white aprons donned, the group formed a team where some rolled and flattened small balls of dough, others scooped a blob of filling for each, and others folded and pressed each samosa closed. The goal was to make about 400, and with all those (little!) hands helping, the project went pretty quickly. Joyful enthusiasm went into every samosa, and as Rick has said many times before, we’ll be able to taste it.

Girl Zipline Crew

Today we opened up our zip line for the first time this summer. We announced the option at breakfast and in no time we had two groups pumped up for their chance to fly down the 450 foot ride through woods behind the dining hall. The course begins with a cable and plank bridge suspended between two massive rocks high above a stream. The girls walk the bridge, being careful not to look down, to reach the zip line launch. From there, they clip their pulley into the cable, lift their feet and they’re off screaming down to the far hill. It’s a thrilling ride.

Sliding Rock Scream
Sliding Rock Girl Speed
Sliding Rock Cold Water Plunge

Late in the day, we gathered all of the senior campers and drove into the Pisgah National Forest for a picnic. Rick set us up with hot dogs, buns and all the fixins, including some of his homemade coleslaw, fruit and cookies. We enjoyed eating and then played a group game called “I’m a Rockbrook Girl.” This is a chance to run around and learn each other’s names, and of course laugh the whole time. Our next stop was Sliding Rock, that classic natural water slide formed by Looking Glass creek as it cascades 60 feet down a smooth rock. I’m sure you could guess this mountain water is “refreshing” (i.e. freezing cold) but if not, these pictures prove it. (Click the photo to see a larger version.) Not every camper was inspired, or brave, enough to take the plunge, but for those that did, it was a grand, albeit chilly, time. On the other hand, everyone participated in our last stop— Dolly’s Dairy Bar. We all enjoyed a cup or cone of our favorite sweet treat, for example the flavor called “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion” or one of the other varieties named after the summer camps in the area. Sure, it was too cold to get wet at Sliding Rock, but for these girls, it’s never too cold for Dolly’s ice cream.

Words that Inspire

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

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

camp garden and girl back

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

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

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

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

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

A Recipe for Community

Creativity Dancers

One feature of camp life at Rockbrook that makes it so special, so meaningful for the girls and indeed for everyone here (counselors, adventure guides, kitchen and maintenance staff alike), is the strong sense of community we all enjoy. It’s a really cool thing to experience. As we all share so much together- eating, playing, making, singing, the outdoor environment, even the weather -we grow closer everyday. Combine that full-time shared experience with non-stop fun activities and events led by caring, admirable role models, and mix in time for heartfelt conversations with people who are relaxed and being their “true selves,” and our recipe for community takes shape. It’s this sense of community- inclusive, noncompetitive, caring, compassionate and kind- that forms the core of Rockbrook’s philosophy. And there is real, significant power in this kind of community; experiencing it teaches us how to be positive and brings out our best. So when your daughter returns home after camp talking about her friends and how much fun she had, you’ll also know why she’s feeling so good about herself, is a better communicator, and is more positive and responsible. Rockbrook has become her community, her camp.

Horseback Summer Camp Girl
Camp Girl Aiming a Rifle

Have you heard about the freshly baked muffins that Katie, our awesome baker, makes for us each day? Between the first and second activity periods each morning, Katie surprises the camp with a different flavor of muffins, and she’s not shy about trying unique, almost off-the-wall varieties. Today for example, she presented Blackberry Mint with Chocolate sprinkles. Earlier in the week, she made Pumpkin Chocolate Chip, and Banana Streusel flavors to balance more traditional muffins like Blueberry and Lemon. It’s no wonder that “Muffin Break” is a favorite time of the day.

Down at the rifle range, the girls have been blasting the black through stacks of paper targets. With coaching from Leah, Deanna and Cliff, and now with two new, perfectly sighted Marlin rifles, there are very excited young marksmen down there shooting. Some of the girls have been scoring in the 40s (a bullseye is 10 points and 5 bullets are shot per target), proud of their developing riflery skills.

At the Rockbrook equestrian center, there are girls learning to walk, trot, canter and jump their horses, sharpening their horseback riding skills everyday. For both the complete beginners and the more advanced riders, there are just the right lessons, horses and instructors ready to go. The recent sunny, dry weather has made it ideal for the horseback riding team to keep everyone involved riding, and caring for the horses during the “Stable Club” meetings.

Girls Camp Dance Costume
Summer Camp Girls dancing at costume party
All Girl Summer Camp Party

One way to make a dance party fun is to encourage dressing up, but perhaps surprisingly, it can be even more fun if it’s a girls only affair. That’s exactly what we did tonight when our friend “DJ Dawg” Marcus came over to mix music for us in the gym for a costume dance party. With no boys around, with nobody to scrutinize or be scrutinized by, the girls can dress a little sillier, truly cut loose on the dance floor, and scream as loud as they want when their favorite song starts. All girls means all smiles and no nerves. It means dancing simply for the pure joy of it. This kind of dance is a great way to learn dance moves too- how to whip your hair, “Cha Cha Slide,” and shake it all over, hands in the air. By the end of the night, we were all a little hot and sweaty, but felt good having had this much fun together.

All Girl Dance at Summer Camp

Zeal for Dressing Up

Bracelet Making Girls

This morning we woke to a gentle, though steady, rain. It’s really been the first time during this spell of wet weather that it’s rained consistently for more than 45 minutes or so. Most of the “real rains” have been at night, but the radar this morning showed this cell would be with us a few hours, yielding not a stormy kind of rain, but continuous little drops, almost like a beaded curtain of water. It was a morning of rain coats, ponchos and rubber boots… And mostly indoor activities. All the crafts activities, all seven of them, have their own studio, whether it’s inside one of the historic log cabins or on a covered porch, so they were unaffected. The gym became livelier with the archery and riflery girls joining the action, and the dining hall accommodated tennis players for a board game. For horseback riding, the campers had a horse grooming party, staying dry inside the barn.

girls yoga partner pose
camp kids doing partner yoga pose

The yoga classes that meet in the Hillside Lodge continue to be well attended. MK, our yoga instructor, seems to have an endless supply of poses and relaxation exercises for the girls. Today she had several partner poses to present. One was a simple back-to-back twist pose, and another was called the “Child and Fish” pose. With relaxing music playing, MK tries to create a calm atmosphere, even if the girls tend to giggle at each other trying each new pose. It’s a lighthearted activity that celebrates process and initiative rather than some notion of perfection. Being together, feeling good, and having fun are the goals; doing yoga, in this case, is the means.

Girl River kayaking

A group of Senior girls headed out to the Tuckasegee River today for a whitewater kayaking trip. Being a dam-controlled river, the recent rains haven’t affected to it as severely, making it still safe to run. The water was a little muddier than usual (though the “Tuck” is always a little muddy), but all the named rapids were perfect and there were still plenty of eddies to catch and play in. In fact, the water level made the river slightly easier to paddle because several ordinarily shallow sections were now more forgiving. One highlight of the trip was a brief stop to jump off the rock right blow the Moonshot rapid… A little swimming to get even more wet!

At lunch, as the rain subsided and yes the sun broke through the clouds for an afternoon back outside, Frampton announced the afternoon was to be “Disney Day” and that everyone should break out their Disney-related costumes, especially for dinner because it was Disney Restaurant Night. This is a special dinner where the counselors transform the dining hall into a themed restaurant, in this case into anything Disney, using posters, table ornaments and other decorations.

Kids camp wearing disney clothes
Kids dressed in disney costumes
Camp counselor dressed as mini mouse

The costumes were amazing! And the enthusiasm for dressing up really showed as I’d say 95% of the campers and staff members were made up in some way or another. Just a little face paint, a goofy hairstyle, or handmade sign taped to your shirt was plenty good, even as some girls shown in complete Disney Character costumes. Lilo and Stitch, Chip and Dale, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, super heroes (from the Incredibles), monsters (from Monsters, Inc.) Winnie the Pooh, Fish (from the Little Mermaid), and more princesses than I can count came to life at Rockbrook singing their lungs out during dinner and posing on the hill afterwards for a few photos. Ever seen a frog play tetherball with a mouse? It happened last night!

It’s so wonderful to see these girls, young girls and teenagers alike, have such zeal for dressing up like this- bent over with laughter and asking for their picture to be taken so they can scrunch up their faces into an even sillier look. It shows that they are proud and self-confident, they feel safe and cared for, and they are surrounded by friends, completely free of other social pressures (no boys!). What a wonderful community for them.

Camp girls dress up in Disney clothes

A Community of Fun

Girl and horse at equestrian camp

This is a time of camp when everyone seems to be settled in. After only these few days together we’re singing the songs louder and more confidently, taking on higher level activity challenges, and most importantly, happily greeting so many more new friends we see around camp. That’s the really cool thing; you can feel the whole community growing closer and caring for each other. And of course, knowing this many people this well, we all are having even more fun. There’s a friend around every corner, someone waiting to join you in whatever the next thing is. “Let’s go get changed for horseback riding!”

young camp girl learning to knit

One of the oldest buildings at Rockbrook is a 19th century log cabin called Curosty. Originally constructed in nearby, Rockbrook’s founder Nancy Carrier moved it here to serve initially as the camp’s office. Now it houses our fiber arts activities. Inside you’ll find girls learning to weave using all kinds of looms and techniques. They are weaving narrow belts and headbands on tabletop looms, wider and more complex fabrics on the floor looms, and simple designs on lap looms… All surrounded by the hand-hewed timbers of this 150-year-old cabin. On the back porch of Curosty, in the shade of the oaks and hemlocks and nearby a gurgling creek, our Needlecraft activity meets. This is another wonderful opportunity for our campers to step back in time and learn classic needlework crafts like knitting, cross stitch, and embroidery. Working with colorful threads and yarns, the girls are threading, twisting and knotting strands into beautiful designs. Different from some of the more physically active, thrilling activities, stepping into Curosty is calm and conversational.

Campers-dressed counselors

Guess what happens when you let eight 2nd graders dress you in anything they want. That’s right; it can be pretty crazy, and that’s exactly what the Junior Line girls did tonight to their counselors.  For their evening program, and with all sorts of costume props at their disposal, the girls didn’t hold back as they added multiple layers and accessories. Hats, scarves, sunglasses, tiaras, dresses and skirts- nothing seemed out of bounds. The finale was a wild fashion show in the Junior Lodge, which had everyone rolling with laughter. It’s great for the girls to see their counselors be such good sports, throwing themselves into all this silliness, just letting go and enjoying themselves no matter who might be watching. After all, that’s exactly what “having fun” often means.

Also tonight all the Middlers and their counselors took a trip into the Pisgah Forest for a picnic dinner. Rick and his crew packed us yummy Burritos, chips and fruit to eat, and after a short drive we had the whole crew (92 people in all!) skipping and frolicking through the grass of our favorite secret spot. Back in the buses, we then headed to Sliding Rock for a few trips down the rock. A rain shower from earlier in the day had swollen the creek a bit, making it a slightly faster ride, but it had also warmed up the water temperature a bit (though I suspect the girls didn’t really notice!). Sliding Rock is a real mountain treat, and is something Rockbrook campers have enjoyed for generations. Finally, we made a stop at the famous “Dolly’s Dairy Bar,” located at the entrance to the forest. Everyone picked out their favorite flavor for a cup or cone, like “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion,” to top off the evening.

Happy Girl Loving Camp
This is awesome!!

Human Relations Makes the Counselor

Have you seen this aphorism— A Short Course in Human Relations? Its author and origin are unclear, but it’s been around for years, and in various versions. I found one reference to it as a motivational poster spotted in 1987, and now there are even YouTube videos devoted to it.

As you can see, it is eight principles organized as a descending series of “most important words.” Taken together, they are meant to be “wisdom literature,” “rules of thumb” to guide and improve how we relate to other people. There’s certainly a lot to say about each of these principles, but it’s easy so see why the human qualities they represent— humility, honesty, encouragement, openness, respect, gratitude, cooperation, and altruism —are so fundamental to establishing strong, positive human relationships.

Course in Human Relations and Leadership

To understand how this is relevant to being a camp counselor, we need only to recall the close-knit character of camp, the true community life we share at Rockbrook. As we know, camp is foremost a community of people brimming with enthusiasm and a true sense of belonging shared by everyone. It is quite literally built upon positive “human relations,” daily interactions between people inspired by “central values like kindness, cooperation, compassion, care and generosity.”

Driving this sense of community are the camp staff members, cabin counselors, and directors— the leaders at camp. Beginning with these kinds of admirable character traits, we extend them to others, thereby strengthening the camp community, and ultimately enhancing all the benefits of camp life. The better we are at relating to each other, the better camp is.

So that’s one of the secrets to being a great camp counselor. Be an expert in human relations. Master this short course! Be the kind of person who relates to others in the ways this course advocates, and you’ll be a long way toward becoming an admired leader in any community.