The Power of Costumes

Camp Counselor CostumeCamp Director CostumeDon’t underestimate the power of a costume. It can be as simple as a hat or a carefully draped sheet, or as elaborate as a full-body pumpkin suit or complete ninja attire. Putting on something out of the ordinary— and the sillier the better —can be transformative. It can give you permission to express an aspect of your personality that’s ordinarily muted. Or, it can be a chance to experiment with a completely different character, like a pirate for example. A costume can act as a shield of sorts from what we perceive as social expectations. It can be an opportunity to be creative, perform and proudly participate more fully in a group event. Whether it’s changing your hairstyle, carrying a wooden sword all day, or borrowing those sparkly shoes from your cabin mate, for example, wearing a costume is inherently playful, and thereby fun.

Lifeguard Camp CostumeIce Cream OlafThese are the reasons we incorporate costumes into so many of our events at camp. We know that whatever we’re doing, wearing a costume will make it more fun. A good example was the “Winter Wonderland” theme we announced this morning at breakfast. When the campers arrived in the dining hall they found painted banners, decorative snowflakes suspended from the rafters, snow centerpieces on the tables, miniature characters from the movie “Frozen” (like Olaf the snowman), and some winter songs playing. With some inspiration from the counselors who already were dressed up, everyone was encouraged to dress up in any “winter-themed” costume they could imagine.

It was great to see later an ice princess lifeguarding at the lake, a polar bear in the Painting and Drawing class, and a life-sized Olaf snowman shooting archery. There were several girls dressed as snow queens, and for some wearing a snow hat was enough. Throughout the day the girls could make gingerbread houses, and something akin to snow (from corn starch, shaving cream, and glitter). The most popular event was the “Polar Express” ice cream party where the girls could enjoy a round of hand-dipped (thanks counselors!) cones on the hill. A variation on our tradition called the “Biltmore Train,” this party let the girls finish their ice cream, and as long as they still had some cone left, they could return for another scoop. Most of the girls ended up eating two or three scoops before their cone got too soggy. A real summertime treat.

Throughout the day, the costumes seemed to multiply and evolve, as if costume wearing was contagious. The silliness seemed to inspire others to join in, and be part of the fun. Winter-themed stickers appearing at lunch, temporary tattoos at dinner, our winter theme accelerated all day. Even during the “Twilight” drum and dance workshop with Billy Zanski, the girls stayed in costume, pounding the djembes and dancing around the hillside lodge.

Maybe there will be a chance to dress up tomorrow too. Even if we don’t announce a theme, I bet there will be several girls who sport some kind of costume… Just for the fun of it.

Girl Camp Friends

Muffins and Mail

Muffins and Mail

Here’s a photo that illustrates a few very important things about life at Rockbrook. First notice what the girls are nibbling; it’s today’s flavor of muffin. As you may already know —since this Rockbrook tradition is truly legendary— we serve fresh baked muffins everyday between the first and second activity periods. Brigid and Becky, our camp bakers, surprise us with these special treats creating all kinds of unique flavors. Yesterday is was pumpkin chocolate chip, which is always popular, but today we enjoyed a completely new variety: vanilla bean, cherry muffins. Man, they were good! Rick explained that they soaked vanilla beans and used locally grown cherries in the recipe. Outrageous!

The girls are also standing in front of the camper mailboxes on the dining hall porch. Mail. Everybody loves it at camp. Being away from home and isolated to some extent from the outside world makes receiving mail even more delightful. Send us some news. Maybe add a silly joke, like one of these jokes for kids written by Sofie. Have you been sending letters to your daughter, or at least emails? She will love it, and if you’re lucky will write you back.

It looks like (By the way, clicking the photos of the blog will bring up a larger version) Ellie is holding a Hodge Podge project popular right now, a tie pillow. It’s a pillow made from two pieces of cloth “sewn” together by tying knots in strips cut around the edges. These are sometimes called ‘no-sew pillows.” They are quick and fun to make, and often become quite elaborate as the girls then decorate them with fabric paint, beads and other shiny bits.

Huge Tree and Camp Girls

Finally, this photo nicely typifies how happy and relaxed the campers are at Rockbrook. Quick to smile, embrace each other, and support their friends with true feelings of generosity and care, these girls are peeling away layers of habits and concerns, and discovering how good it feels to be who they really are. In the context of a community brimming with encouragement, these girls can’t help but blossom. It’s not magic, but it is marvelous.

Isn’t that an amazing tree! Just a root of it is bigger than two people! Located in the Pisgah Forest at an elevation above 5100 feet, it’s an example of an old-growth evergreen tree that’s very rare in the forest these days, following the extensive logging of this area in the early twentieth century. We stumbled upon it this morning while out hiking with the Hi-Ups (our sixteen year old campers). Of course we couldn’t just walk by without touching it, feeling it, smelling and even tasting it! And grabbing a quick snap to share.

Drumming Camp kids

The hour of free time after dinner we call “Twilight” brought the return tonight of our friend and master drummer Billy Zanski. He arrived from Asheville ready to teach any interested girls how to play the Djembe and DunDun drums, and to lead everyone in what essentially became a drumming dance party in the hillside lodge. Campers and counselors alike took turns drumming and dancing, each whirling their hands over the skins of the drums and their feet across the wood floor of the lodge. The whole scene was energizing and fun, a special kind of group experience that we love at Rockbrook.

A Very Cool Setting

Camp Yoga Class
Girls Nifty Knitter

The Hillside Lodge, one of the original three stone lodges built in the 1920s from rock quarried here on the property, is the setting for our Yoga activity. It’s a wonderful space— a smooth, hardwood floor, rough-cut stone walls, a 4ft fireplace with stone mantel, paned windows and thick oak doors. It has very simple log furniture, a few low benches, but is otherwise a nice open space for Line meetings, morning assemblies, and evening programs. During the daily yoga classes, the girls spread out their colorful foam mats on the floor, and Mary Alice, the head instructor, plays calm relaxing music while introducing basic yoga poses and positions. The building is itself beautiful and calm, so it’s the perfect place for doing yoga.

Another very cool setting for one of our camp activities is the shady back porch of the “Curosty” cabin. There you’ll find girls doing needle crafts like knitting, embroidery and cross stitching. This log cabin is one of two (the other being the “Goodwill” cabin) that Mrs. Carrier moved here from her family’s plantation in South Carolina when she founded the camp in 1921. We think both cabins date from before 1888, when her father and mother purchased the plantation.  Cool and breezy, and with the creek quietly gurgling nearby, the Curosty cabin porch is a great place to hang out and knit, and of course chat. Some of the girls are using traditional knitting needles, but these hoop-shaped “Nifty Knitters” have been very popular lately. Working with colorful yarns, these hoops make it easy to weave tubes that become woolen hats. You may have seen photos of a few being worn around camp, in fact.

Camp Lake Rock
Beans and Plantains for Lunch

The lake also comes to mind as a unique part of the environment at Rockbrook. In particular, it’s neat how gigantic rocks frame it, with the biggest being about 25 feet tall next to the water slide. A waterfall constantly tumbles down on one end, and on the other there are two huge flat boulders where the girls can spread their towels and lounge in the sun after swimming. Hidden in the woods among huge trees, and filled by the cold mountain water of Dunn’s Creek, the lake attracts girls all day long. It might be to catch tadpoles, or to cool off in the water, or just to sit nearby, but the lake is a big part of our day at camp. And we love it!

I can’t not mention today’s lunch because it was amazing. Rick made us black beans and posole, and served it with roasted plantains, queso fresco, salsa, sour cream and tortilla chips. The beans had a wonderful smokey, but not spicy, taste that balanced the mild posole (hominy) nicely. Combined with the sweet plantains, it was delicious. Of course the salad bars (which included pasta, chicken, tuna and rice salads, as well as fresh veggies) and peanut butter and jelly station were also seeing plenty of action, but overall I’d say most of the girls tried this traditional Latin American meal. And by many accounts, really enjoyed it.

Camp Drumming Circle

Our after dinner, optional “Twilight” activity was a festival of rhythm and dancing tonight as we welcomed back Billy Zanski for another of his west African drumming workshops. Billy has been playing Djembe for years, has studied under master drummer Bolokada Conde from Guinea, and now teaches private lessons from his drum shop in Asheville. He’s great with the girls and is an enthusiastic instructor. Arriving loaded down with different Djembe and Dundun drums, Billy led us through several rhythms up in the Hillside Lodge with campers and counselors taking turns on all the drums. The dundun bass drums kept everyone together with a core beat while some girls slapped their djembes, and others danced with colorful scarves or responded to Billy’s rhythmic chants. This many drums being played together is loud and infectious, somehow obviously social, and uplifting. In the context of camp, already a place of happy enthusiasm, it’s guaranteed to to be really fun as well.

A Full Slate

Camp girl rock climbingcamp girls in NC hiking in high altitudeIn addition to the regularly scheduled activities at camp, the four hour-long periods during a typical day when every corner of the camp is busily occupied with girls and activity instructors working on craft projects or improving athletic skills, for example, there are also outdoor adventure trips going out. Some might be up to rock climb on our very own private Castle Rock or to hike on the camp property along the trail to Rockbrook Falls (a multi-tiered waterfall formed by Dunn’s Creek), or perhaps out of camp to one of the nearby rivers (e.g. the French Broad or Tuckaseegee) or into one of the public Forests (e.g., the Pisgah, Dupont or Nantahala). Whether in camp or out of camp, we often announce these trips during breakfast either the day before or on the very day they will happen. In this way, if a camper wants to climb Looking Glass Rock (as was offered today), she would sign up and then miss her regularly scheduled activities while gone. With several kinds of trips offered every day, this creates a dilemma of sorts for those girls who want to “do it all.” They have to choose… Kayaking or gymnastics and horseback riding… rock climbing or Needlecraft and archery, and so forth. It’s a great exercise in decision making, but also something that gives each girl even more power to set her own schedule while at camp, to customize it according to her newfound interests or in sync with her newly developed friendships. The girls can sign up for these special trips if they want to, but it’s also just fine if they prefer to stick with their schedule of activities in camp.

Well, that’s a long introduction to report that today we offered a full slate of adventure trips. While Andy took a group rock climbing to the Nose area of Looking Glass, Andria and Leland guided another group of 8 campers kayaking on a section of the French Broad River. Meanwhile Clyde introduced a group of Seniors to a feature in Pisgah by hiking to “Devil’s Courthouse” (elev. 5670 ft.) and Emily led a backpacking excursion to one of our favorite secret campsites in a different section of Pisgah. Rounding out the options, Rita and Jenny also offered trips down the Rockbrook zipline throughout the day. There were plenty of options for everyone to scratch their itch for adventure today.

Pottery Glazing child at summer campAt camp, both pottery studios today were happily pinching, rolling and coiling lumps of clay to make different pots and sculptures. Some campers have chosen to make slab mugs with different patterns pressed into the sides, creating textures with lace, leaves, or combs. They’ve cut shapes, for example different letters, scored and applied some “slip” to fuse them to their vessels. Several girls have been making face mugs complete with eyes, ears and eyebrows, as well as a nose and obvious lips. Other campers are sculpting realistic forms, for example dogs, rabbits, plenty of turtles and even a penguin. The last step, before firing them, is to chose different colors of glaze for the finishing touch on the projects.

Take a look at this short video Emily produced about the pottery program at Rockbrook. It shows campers working with clay and Michelle helping them throw pots on the wheels.

Camp girl learning to drumOur twilight drum circle returned tonight when Billy Zanski arrived with his array of different Djembe and Dunun drums from West Africa. Billy has played with Djembe master Bolokada Conde from Guinea, and teaches regular drumming classes in Asheville. Tonight he led us through several rhythms up in the Hillside Lodge with campers and counselors taking turns on all the drums. Sitting on benches arranged in a circle, several girls danced while others played.  The Djembes produce both high, mid and bass notes depending how your hand hits the head of the drum, and with almost 20 of them being played together it produced a really fun sound.  The Dunun (or Dundun) played alternating bass and mid tones setting the core beat.  There’s something infectiously fun about hearing group drum rhythms like this. We had the doors of the Lodge open so the whole hill was filled with cool drumming music, inspiring everyone outside to be more upbeat and dance a bit. For all of us, it was a fun musical evening. Cool stuff.

We have very exciting plans for tomorrow’s 4th of July celebration. It’s gonna be great!

A Powerful Feeling

Horse Camp Riding ClassSometimes it’s easy to forget that while girls are jumping (in the lake), sewing (pillows), climbing (rocks), shooting (arrows), and acting (in improvisational drama games)… all up in camp, down by the river, they are also riding— horses, of course. Managing our riding program this summer is Kelsi Peterson who comes to us from the Equestrian program at St. Andrews University in Laurinburg, NC where she is the show team coach. Directing the Rockbrook riding program is quite a job with 29 horses, 2 barns, 60 acres of pasture, and 6 staff members all needing attention, not to mention all the campers wanting to ride. Kelsi does a fantastic job with this, taking particular care placing every camper in a mounted lesson that matches her experience and riding ability. For those extra-excited campers, Kelsi and her staff also teach a regular class we call “Stable Club” where the girls learn— mostly by doing —how to care for the horses. Baths and brushing, hoof care and feeding, and mucking out stalls, there’s always a lot to know and do!

Girl learning to throw pottery on wheelGirls hands on pottery wheelThe girls taking ceramics are advancing through the different hand building techniques, experimenting with coils and slabs to make some pretty cool animal sculptures. Michele, who is our Head ceramics instructor this summer, is encouraging the girls to use their imaginations and create whatever comes to mind without much concern about what something is “supposed” to look like. They are learning that different color glazes and finishing tools can really make something unique. In addition, it’s been a big hit for the girls to learn wheel-thrown pottery techniques. Michele has been explaining and demonstrating all the steps to throwing a pot on the wheel: centering the clay, opening it up, pulling up the walls, and cleaning the top. Each of these can require some practice to master, so it’s a great feeling when the girls are successful at each point. Most of the girls are really excited to give it a try and likewise determined to master every skill. We are all looking forward to the end of the session when all of the kiln firings are done and the finished, colorful pieces emerge.

Kids Hiking by WaterfallThis afternoon, Clyde led a group of Junior campers on a hike in the nearby Dupont State Forest to visit several of the county’s largest waterfalls. With a snack, water bottles packed, and with cameras set and ready, they were able to reach both Triple Falls and High Falls while out hiking. This area of the Forest has recently become popular thanks to the first Hunger Games movie, part of which was filmed at the base of these waterfalls. Today the water level was a bit higher than normal making the crashing sound of High Falls a little louder and the spray you feel on your face at the base of the falls all the more surprising. It’s a powerful feeling to be that close to such a huge waterfall.

Summer Camp Drum ClassAfter dinner, during that hour of free time we call “Twilight,” tonight we held a drumming workshop in the Hillside Lodge. Our friend Billy Zanski from Asheville arrived loaded down with different sized drums and led the drumming session for any of the campers who chose to attend. He taught us several basic Djembe rhythms and the girls played along taking turns on the Dundun bass drums. Several of the songs included a call and response chant while others easily inspired several of the girls (and counselors!) to get up and dance along. The whole session illustrated that even for young girls, drumming, contributing to a group musical experience like this, is something really enjoyable.

Finally, today was “Twin Day” at camp, so if the girls felt compelled— and a great number did —they would dress together as twins. This meant switching the the left shoes, or wearing the same t-shirt, or in this case dressing as “Camp Carolina Boys.” I think I spotted several princesses too. You just never know what these girls will come up with!

Girls Camp Twins Costume