A Friendly Fear

Last week, there was an open spot on a zip lining trip, and, since I have the greatest job in the world, I filled it. It was the first time I had been on our new, expanded zip line course, complete with three zip lines, one tight rope, and two rope bridges. I am not ashamed a bit to admit that my heart was beating double-time the whole time I was up there.

Keeping an Eye OutAnd I definitely was not alone in that sensation. Most of the girls that I was with had done the zip line before, and jumped out into thin air every time without a second thought. But hanging back in the back of the line with me was one brand new camper, whose eyes were just as wide as mine felt. She turned to me just before we got to the first zip line, and said, “I’ve never felt like this before.”

I asked her what she was feeling, and she listed out sweaty palms, dry mouth, beating heart—in short, she described fear. Here she was, far from home, standing high on a mountain, and she was feeling, for the first time in her life, fear. Now, she knew of course that she was wearing a harness, a helmet, and that she was hooked onto each line by two different tethers. She knew, intellectually, that she was safe. But that doesn’t stop the body’s natural reaction to the contemplation of jumping off a high rock face.

Suiting UpBut still, despite her fear, she jumped.

Most of our campers, thank goodness, lead relatively safe lives. They can go through whole days, weeks, and months without feeling the rush of adrenaline that comes along with fear, and this is certainly not a bad thing. Still, in our modern, comfortable world, it can be easy to forget the immense benefits of fear.

Let me clarify that by fear, I don’t mean the spine-tingling fear associated with horror movies or true danger. I mean that moment of breathlessness felt at the base of the Alpine Tower, looking up. I mean the bottom dropping out of your stomach when you’re about to go down the Nantahala Falls in a raft. I mean the way a heart can clench in nervousness when you’re stepping out of the car on Opening Day. I mean the way a tongue can tie itself up in knots when meeting new friends.

I mean the true discomfort of being utterly outside of your comfort zone.

Here at camp, we live outside of the comfort zone. We brush our teeth in sinks shaped like troughs, we live in cabins with screens instead of windows, we try new things each and every day that seem crazy and terrifying. We push ourselves, in a safe environment, to challenge ourselves, grow, and find new limits to our bravery.

Flying HighAnd yes, this can be scary. It can be terrifying. But it can also be a transformative experience. That fear can precede the moment in which a girl decides that she wants to spend the rest of her life paddling, rock climbing, or even just putting herself out there and trying new things. That fear can precede a moment of true growth.

My zip lining buddy grew that day. I knew it the moment she flung herself off onto the final zip line—the longest and fastest zip line. I heard her scream out in joy, and saw her smiling hugely as she went zooming away. She met me on the other side (after my own breathless ride), with her cheeks flushed, and her smile undiminished.

“That,” she told me, “was awesome.”

To the Top!

Summer Camp Rock Climbing

Squeezing your feet into tiny, rubber soled shoes, wearing a climbing harness and helmet, and being tied to a bright pink rope that stretches up 100 feet over a rock above you, can be a little intimidating. If the rock is steep, like the climb called “B-52” on the south side of Looking Glass Rock, climbing it might even seem impossible. But that’s exactly what a small group of Rockbrook girls did this morning thanks to Rita and Nicole who led their trip. With a lunch of burritos packed, along with all the necessary climbing gear, the girls left Rockbrook around 8am, hiked up the mile-long trail, and arrived at the base of the rock, a little sweaty already, set to climb. The first pitch of B-52 is rated 5.8 and is not a simple climb. It takes courage, strength, and determination to take each step up, balancing on the eyebrow shaped edges of rock. You have to really trust that your feet won’t slip because handholds are scarce on this route. Every move feels a little risky— despite knowing you’re on a top belay —so in the face of that (perceived) risk, you have to be brave to make progress up the rock. These Rockbrook girls showed exactly that kind of strength and bravery because they all topped out the route! We might say they left their comfort zones at home!

Dot Painting Project

On the back porch of the Hobby Nook cabin, the Painting and Drawing activity meets. The porch has several long tables and benches, good lighting, and all the supplies to experiment with different painting and drawing media. It also is surrounded by old-growth rhododendron bushes that provide good shade, and on most days there’s a light breeze blowing through making the porch a delightful place to work. Recently the painting instructors, Tessa and Jess, have been helping the girls learn how to blend colors by using a dot-painting technique. This requires mixing paints on a palate before applying it to the canvas, or in this case, on a small square of card stock. The girls blend the paint using a wooden brush, then dip the other end of it in the paint to apply it. It’s a deliberate process of repeated blending and application to achieve different degrees of shading and slight color variation.  And the results are awesome! I’ve seen some really cool examples of the camper’s work: a boat splashing through the waves, a detailed vase of flowers, and a closeup of an eye… all really well done.

Summer camp water slide girl

You may have noticed that recently there are quite a number of photos in our online gallery of girls hurtling out the bottom of our lake’s water slide, affectionately known as “Big Samanatha.” The lifeguards open the slide during the two free swim periods, one before lunch and the other before dinner. Perhaps because it’s been so dry and warm lately, but also because it’s simply a lot of fun, the free swim periods have been very well attended (coming down to the lake is optional during those blocks of free time before lunch and dinner), and hence the slide has been getting a nice workout. After walking along the boardwalk and climbing the tower to the start of the slide, it can take some nerve to launch yourself because at the top, you are about 50 feet in the air as you stare down the 150-foot slick vinyl. It’s a surprisingly quick ride down, and a pretty big splash waiting at the bottom. For most girls, that means holding your nose and letting out a quick scream before hitting the water. It’s a fun ride, and after a short swim, an easy walk back around for another slide.

One last thing… A friend passed along an article that I thought you also might appreciate. Written by Margie Warrell, it makes the case for teaching girls to be brave, and goes further to suggest six things we can do to encourage that quality. Here is the article. Like we know well here at Rockbrook, there is much to be gained from being Kind, Silly and Brave.

Girls summer camp kids

Jumping Right In

"Smile" for the CameraEvery summer, on the first full day of camp, it strikes me how little time it takes for the “spirit of Rockbrook” to take hold on our campers.

Within the first 24 hours, our campers transform from the quiet, polite children who arrive on Opening Day into true Rockbrook Girls (who, while always polite, are rarely quiet). Through the courage of jumping into the lake for the swim demos yesterday, the creativity of planning and performing skits with their cabins last night at Evening Program, and the sheer adventure of setting out this morning for the activities that they themselves chose, those handy manners that school instills in them are stripped away in preparation of three weeks of carefree fun.

Getting Their Hands DirtyGone too are some of the inhibitions that might hold them back from taking fun and crazy chances in the “real world.” Girls who have been nervous around horses their whole lives chose to step into the barn this morning. Girls who swore up and down all year long that they wouldn’t do the camp swim demo completed it yesterday afternoon and earned their green bracelet. Girls who dreaded opening day all year long, sure in the knowledge that they would be homesick, began to realize that they are strong enough to make it through, and even enjoy, nearly three weeks away from the comforts of home.

High Five!Most wonderfully, though, campers are putting away their self-consciousness and desire to “fit in” with the crowd, and have begun to let their inner zaniness shine through. They are realizing that camp is a place where “weirdness” is not only tolerated, but welcomed and encouraged—a place where differences are celebrated. Silly songs in the Dining Hall? No problem. Creating a skit about Cinderella and Hannah Montana starting a dance party on the moon? Totally normal. Wearing pants on your head to dinner? All par for the course.

Embracing the WeirdThere were three Juniors in particular who embraced that philosophy last night, when they stood up and made the announcement at dinner that, “Rockbrook is all about having fun, and sometimes to have fun you have to get a little weird.” They then challenged their fellow campers to dress as weirdly as possible for today’s meals. Our Rockbrook girls, new and returning, rose marvelously to the challenge. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were populated by walking bananas, ketchup bottles, aliens, pants-on-head wearers, giant sunglasses, and more.

It is amazing to see the transformations that only a single day at camp can bring about; and even more amazing to consider how our campers will continue to grow and change between today and Closing Day.

This is Me

Pair of Camp kids
Camp Counselor Camper Girl
Canoe Trip Kid

Last week I wrote about how the many examples of “imperfection” and “incompleteness” around us at camp— in the environment, in our abilities, and even in our personality and appearance —can be understood as beautiful. I suggested that the Rockbrook camp culture, as it celebrates our differences and eccentricities, parallels in some ways the Wabi-sabi aesthetic. Camp is a place that loves our quirks. It’s a safe place for being “who we really are,” a special place where everyone can proudly say “This is me!” and feel they belong, are supported and loved.

We understand this and work hard to make Rockbrook that kind of haven. Instead of suggesting all of us should fake it to align with some “perfection” of personality or appearance, camp is a community built upon authenticity— real selves having real relationships in the real world. Here at Rockbrook, we know the value of honest communication, spirited cooperation, sincere generosity, mutual respect and care. As I’ve mentioned before, these values make this an extraordinarily friendly place where relationships are knitted tighter than what’s ordinarily possible. I believe this is what makes camp so much more than just “fun.” It’s what makes camp meaningful, and ultimately transformative for the girls here.

Put differently, Rockbrook is a place where we all can feel comfortable being vulnerable. The camp community, as it both celebrates and supports our individualities, inspires the courage we might need to open up and expose who we really are. Life at camp isn’t so scary, but instead feels joyful and liberating.

All of this brings to mind Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (2012), and its argument for cultivating a habit of vulnerability. The book observes that most people spend too much time “armoring” themselves against social criticism (and its associated feelings of shame) and as a result tend to be isolated from the people and deep experiences around them. Brown argues also that learning to accept our vulnerability can enhance our relationships with others, inspire us to be more creative, and make our everyday work more enjoyable. Retaining a spirit of vulnerability (which is different than weakness, by the way) is a powerful means of personal growth.

Sound familiar? We know camp is “a place for girls to grow,” as we’ve often claimed, and now we have Brown’s research and writing to explain how it works. It’s particularly interesting how she argues that vulnerability is “absolutely essential,” and that “we can’t know love and belonging and creativity and joy” without it. If so, and if Rockbrook is a safe place for young people to feel comfortable with their imperfection and incompleteness, to be proud of their true selves (… “This is me!” …), to be vulnerable, then camp life provides a great benefit far beyond the activities and special events recorded in the photo gallery each night. It may just be the perfect place to learn not only about your authentic self, but to explore what it means to live a “Wholehearted life” rich with true connections.

If you’d like to learn more about Brené Brown and her research, you can watch her TED talk. So far it’s been watched more than 45 million times!

Camp Group of Girls