A Sense of Place

horse riding camper girl

These past few days, between the two July mini sessions, have allowed the full-session campers to dig deeper into various activities and spend a little more time honing their skills and knowledge of techniques. For example, down closer to the French Broad river where Rockbrook’s Riding Center is located, our young equestrians have been riding and working up to more advanced skills. The covered arena with its engineered footing (2 types of polyester fibers blended with a fine silica sand, and kept moist with regular watering) has been an ideal place for setting up cross rails and other vertical jumps for the girls. Some of the more popular horses, like Smoke, Snoopy and Rodin, have been working on the jumps with the girls. These are horses that train throughout the year at St. Andrew’s University, and are very good at trotting and cantering over poles, as well as experienced jumpers. They know exactly what to do when their rider approaches a jump, eager to clear it. It’s wonderful to see the smile on the girls’ faces as they zoom over the jumps.

counselor and camper working on weaving

The same is true for adventure activities. Climbers ventured off-camp to Looking Glass Rock for a day working on the climb called B-52, while kayakers tackled the more advanced section of the Green River. Even in the craft activities, the weavers finished edges, t-shirts were dyed with a new pattern, and the pottery folks learned more about throwing on the wheel. The friendship bracelet patterns are becoming more complex and the needlecraft projects more intricate.

On the other hand, these few days also seemed to take on a slightly more relaxed pace of life. With added familiarity came greater comfort, making moments of free time feel great. We seem to be hanging out more naturally and simply enjoying each other’s company. Instead of a race, we’ve discovered a sense of place. Instead of a goal, we’re taking a leisurely stroll.

jug band campfire

Tonight’s evening program was an all-camp campfire, but one with a silly theme— Jug Band. Inspired by aspects of Appalachian culture, but along the lines of the old TV show “Hee Haw,” the campers and counselors dressed in their mountain attire (flannels, overalls, bandannas), tied their hair in pigtails, and in some cases painted freckles on their cheeks. Even Sarah arrived dressed as “Sayrry,” a mountain granny wearing a long dress, carrying a walking stick, and a pet (rubber) rattlesnake. The program included group songs, skits, and folks taking turns telling jokes. We sang “Rocky Top,” “Sippin’ Cider,” “Mountain Dew,” “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain,” and others. There was a skit performed to the “Rooster Song.” All along, the girls played improvised “musical” instruments like shakers, cans, and other things to tap or bang. For jokes, we heard that you call a pig that knows karate “Pork Chop” and when a horse is being negative it’s a real neigh-sayer. With a nice campfire glowing with orange flames and the whole camp gathered around, it was a fun and amusing evening.

Entertained and Inspired

With all the in-camp activities humming along here at Rockbrook, populating the daily online photo gallery, it’s easy to forget that there are daily adventure trips going out too. Girls can choose to go on a “wet and wild” hike through a stream, as the Hi-Ups did today for example. They can take their first kayaking trip on moving water like the Middlers did today on the French Broad river. Or, as another trip went out this morning, our rock climbers can spend the day climbing at Looking Glass Rock or Cedar Rock in the Pisgah Forest. You may not see as many photos of these activities in the gallery, but they have been going strong all week.

Camp adventure backpacking girls

A group of fourteen Middlers and Seniors had a memorable backpacking trip today. Led by Clyde, Jayne, A.M. and Savannah, the crew loaded two buses with packs, tents, cooking gear and food for the overnight and set out to the higher elevations north of the Blue Ridge Parkway. At the trailhead, they divided into two smaller groups to hike in different directions and ultimately to convene at a designated campsite for the night. This area near Flat Laurel Creek is littered with wild blueberry bushes, which are right now coming into season, so the girls enjoyed picking and eating the berries as they hiked. With their tents pitched and dinner wrapped up, Clyde led the girls up the steep trail to the top of Sam Knob mountain (elev. 6055ft) to watch the sunset. The amazing 360 degree view up there was just perfect for watching the sun dip through patchy clouds and ultimately behind the distant mountains.

The next morning the girls had a rare, fascinating encounter. While they were exploring a nearby waterfall and rocky overlook, a black bear raided their backpacks! The crew had finished eating breakfast and breaking down their campsite, and as they ventured further down Flat Laurel Creek to explore, they left their packs in a pile near the trail. This took about 45 minutes, but when they returned it was obvious that some animal had torn into the top of a couple of the packs and found a ziplock bag of trail mix.  Looking around, they spotted the bear nearby in the woods. It had dragged one of the backpacks away, but as Clyde yelled and waved his arms, the bear retreated from the pack and soon ran off. The girls were excited to see the bear and not frightened since it was clearly not menacing. Ordinarily, it’s the sunset hike that’s the highlight of this trip, but this time it was the bear.

Meanwhile back in camp, it was time for the circus! We announced a whole evening of circus-themed activity complete with costumes, fun music and games, and a professional acrobatics show by the NC troupe “Imagine Circus.”

circus camp counselor costume
camper circus costume

It all started with the girls dressing in their best circus attire —scores of clowns and colorful performers —making dinner festive good fun. When suddenly a nine-foot tall (stilt walker) jester ducked into the dining hall to announce the acrobatics show in the gym, the girls seemed dumbfounded. Every eye in the dining hall followed this golden-winged jester as she strode among the girls answering their questions.

Just after dinner, during our twilight time, we further set the mood by serving cotton candy and popcorn, perfecting our circus costumes further, working on face paint, cracking glow sticks (more color!) and getting even more excited for the show.

And what an amazing show it was! Using a 25-foot tall, pyramid-shaped structure and other props, the performers, who were all female, impressed everyone with an array of aerial and ground acrobatics set to music. They hung in the air by silks, held unbelievable poses with suspended hoops, and showed incredible strength, coordination and balance jumping and flipping. Every trick seemed more amazing than the last, and the crowd showed its appreciation with louder and louder cheers as the show progressed. It was inspiring for the girls to watch these powerful women confidently perform such extremely difficult physical maneuvers.

circus acrobat show
circus camp fire performance

The show’s finale included batons and hoops set on fire! As the performers danced and leapt about, swirling their flaming props in the dark, the campers applauded in a standing ovation. Entertained and inspired, they absolutely loved the whole show!

crazy summer camp costumes

Irresistible Fun

Sliding Rock Cheer

Isn’t this a great photo? As you may have guessed, it was taken at sliding rock here in Pisgah, but what makes it wonderful is how well it captures the expression on the girls faces, one ecstatic and the other a little terrified. For most of the girls we took to slide this evening, to zip themselves down the 60-feet of sloping granite through the cold mountain water of Looking Glass creek, they felt exactly that, an odd combination of intense excitement and dread at the same time. Just sitting down with the chill of the water up their back, elicits this feeling, and then as they begin sliding and accelerating down the rock toward the pool at bottom, most girls can’t help but scream. It’s really the perfect response for any thrilling adventure like this. On the second and third trip down the rock the feeling of excitement overtakes the nervousness, but even then, like riding a roller coaster, it just feels good to throw your hands up and yell. For even these teenage Senior campers we took tonight, this was irresistible fun. Sliding and sliding, we kept it up until it was almost dark— a very full dose of camp adventure.

Sliding Rock Emotions
whitewater rafting camp splash

Earlier today two groups of girls enjoyed a fantastic day rafting on the Nantahala River, another classic Rockbrook camp adventure popular with the girls. Perfect sunny warm weather, our regular crew of Rockbrook guides, and very few other outfitters on the river made the trips superb. We offer these rafting trips to every Middler and Senior— we can do that since Rockbrook has a Forest service permit to guide its own rafting on the Nantahala—and I’d say 90% of the campers opt to do it, either a day trip or a longer outing that involves spending the night at our outpost camp near the river. Like the sliding rock photo above, this rafting shot captures the feeling of rafting, and it too is a heart-pumping ride that’s uniquely fun at camp… good friends screaming their heads off as they bump down mountain whitewater.

Camper being slimed

Finally, tonight we enjoyed a special dinner and evening program set to the theme, “Nickelodeon.” The dining hall was decorated with colorful streamers and painted banners showing well-known Nickelodeon television shows. While everyone enjoyed their roasted chicken Caesar salads and bread for dinner (oh, and which included a delicious chocolate cake with green “slime” glaze for each table), we played “Nick at Night” songs. Lots of campers and counselors dressed up. There was Sponge Bob, Patrick Star, Blue from Blue’s Clues, and the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There were colorful Nickelodeon “Splats” hidden under chairs in the dining hall, and when a camper discovered a certain splat, she won a prize. Several “lucky” campers won the prize of being slimed by a bucket of green goo dumped over their heads. We all gathered on the hill to watch the sliming. During evening program, we also played other messy games like an egg toss that required the contestants to catch the egg in a bucket strapped to their heads. There was a “Double Dare” style game where the girls could only use their feet to remove a banana from a tub containing various canned foods like jello, pie filling, whipped cream and sliced beets. These games were certainly a little messy and in some cases a little gross too, but I think the girls really enjoyed playing them and laughing while they watched their friends. Once again there seemed to be non-stop cheering as everyone stayed excited during the event.

Ninja Turtle Costumed girls

Jubilant Dancing

girl camp dance

There’s probably one special all-camp event that gets campers more excited than any other, and that’s a dance party with one of the neighboring boys camps. It’s an event campers plan for, in some cases anticipate anxiously, but definitely think of as a BIG deal. Like most of our special events at camp, it involves dressing up, music, dancing and food— aren’t those the essential ingredients for a fun party after all? —but a camp dance is somehow even better. Tonight Camp Carolina and Rockbrook took to dancing!

For years now we’ve held two dances simultaneously, dividing the children into older and younger groups, allowing the girls to feel more comfortable around boys their own age. Tonight the Senior girls and Hi-Ups loaded up our buses and vans to travel to Camp Carolina for their dance, and the youngest boys came to Rockbrook for a dance with our Middlers and Juniors.

granny costume dance

I knew to cover my ears when Chase announced the dance during lunch today, because the girls’ roaring reaction was truly deafening. The rest of the afternoon, conversations were about what to wear and when every girl (well, maybe not all of the Juniors!) would be able to take a shower to get ready. During dinner it was fun to see how the girls chose to get “dressed up.” In addition to special “nice outfits” packed especially for the dance, the older girls in particular were more inclined to wear flamboyant and silly costumes: Hawaiian shirts, traffic vests, cat t-shirts, plenty of tie dyes, and a couple of dinosaur costumes. Even this session’s camp moms Janet and Bentley dressed as old ladies! It’s almost expected; whatever you wear to a camp dance, it shouldn’t be too serious.

And that’s because the mood of the dances is high spirited and jubilant. For both the younger and the older girls, the dance means grabbing a friend, or a group of friends, and sticking together. No matter what the music, some familiar pop song from Bruno Mars for example, or some other Techno track (which for some reason is a popular genre at Camp Carolina), the dancing involves mostly jumping up and down to the beat, with only the occasional other “moves.” The exception to that are the recognized group dance songs with set choreographed dances like “The Wobble,” “The Cha Cha Slide,” and “Cotton Eyed Joe,” for example.

Camp teen dance

When the dance at Camp Carolina for the older girls and boys switched occasionally to a slow song, you could feel a little tension in the room rising. Some girls were clearly not interested in a slow dance and quickly left the dance floor or grabbed a friend, indicating they were already “out.”  A handful of brave boys and girls, though, paired up for an awkward, arms-outstretched, shuffle from side to side. It was hard to ignore this awkwardness, particularly when everyone looked so relieved when a fast song came back on.

We wrapped up the dances around 9pm, and after almost 2 hours of jumping around, the girls were sweaty, a little tired, and probably dehydrated. But they were also about as excited as you’ll ever see them. It was non-stop chatter on the bus ride home— comments about who was dancing with whom, that “boy with the weird hat,” the music selection played, how “I danced with a boy 2 years younger than me!”, and how the “whole place smelled like B.O.”  With all good things, it was another fun camp night of dancing.

girls camp dancers
teen girl dance

We Love You Counselors…

Camp counselors in waterfall

At Rockbrook, we talk a lot about the friendships that campers develop as the days and years go by. Many campers, reflecting on what makes Rockbrook a special place to them, talk about the people that they meet here — people that will color their memories of camp for years to come. Often, the people that come to mind when thinking of camp friends are peers — the people who are in your cabin, that you take activities with, that you go on adventure trips with. Tonight in the dining hall, while listening to campers belt out an appreciation song dedicated to “counselors,” I realized that maybe thinking this way might be putting a limit on our experiences. There are many others involved in creating the camp experience special for campers, but the people with the biggest influence are counselors.

Camp Counselor and girls

We are always so proud of the staff that we hire to be counselors at Rockbrook. Every year, Sofie works hard to hire a group of women who are confident, strong, and empathetic, as well as fun and silly! These women are the role models and beloved leaders for our campers. They do so much for everyone here, and at the end of the session, campers get to show their gratitude in classic Rockbrook style…with a skit!

The Monday before camp closes (today!), the theme for Evening Program skits is “Counselor Impersonations.” In these very special skits, cabins get to reflect on their favorite memories with their counselors. Campers work together to recreate moments when their counselors made them laugh, comforted them, or any other special memories they share. Because of this, these skits are always incredibly unique and unbelievably touching. I got to watch some of these skits tonight, and from the silly moments that juniors chose to share to the sweet moments that seniors chose, I loved getting to see the relationships that campers and counselors have formed over their time at camp. As the song goes, WE LOVE YOU COUNSELORS!

This Place is Bustling

wood working camper
Wood Working Bracelet

During breakfast we announced another special activity for the girls today: a visit to George Peterson’s woodworking studio for a tour and project workshop. George has offered different workshops like this to our Rockbrook girls for three years now. His wife Margaret is an Alumna, and his two daughters attend camp every summer. George is widely known for his art, his creative carving, etching, burning and painting of different species of wood, old wooden skateboards, and skis. He’s displayed his work in galleries in New York, Tokyo, San Francisco, and Atlanta, and continues to work as a professional artist out of his studio, The Circle Factory.

When the girls arrived, George first toured them around the studio pointing out several of his specialty tools, like drills, saws, torches, and the giant lathe he uses to turn logs into huge bowls. The girls were fascinated by the stacks of raw materials they saw too: slabs of wood, old skateboards, leather cords, paints and inks. There were finished pieces and works in progress displayed almost everywhere. Each girl was then able to make their own project, a leather and wood bracelet. With help from George and Margaret, the girls used a drill press, a carving tool, sandpaper and a metal “RBC” brand to shape a small chip of multicolored skateboard that they then sewed to a leather strap. There were multiple steps to the project, but the girls each had a cool, one-of-a-kind bracelet to wear proudly when they were done.

tennis camp girl
camp archery girl shooting

For all of us who stayed in camp, our morning was filled with a whole range of activities. Girls were climbing high above camp on Castle Rock, trying to “slay the dragon” (which is lingo for climbing to the top of our route called “Dragon Tail”). Others were whooping as they flew through the trees on our zip line course. A few Senior girls took on the challenge of climbing the Alpine tower blindfolded, while at the lake, Sarah and Stephanie, our kayaking instructors, were teaching a roll clinic. Archers and riflemen (girls actually!) were gleefully shooting holes in their targets. Equestriennes were gliding their horses around the arena, outdoor ring, and jump course. Girls played tennis; they shot basketball, and swam laps in the lake. Of course, there was non-stop arts and crafts too, from weaving on the loom to stringing beads and glazing pottery, making candles and blended dot painting. It’s difficult for our photographers to capture all this activity— though they do pretty well! — but you can tell, this place is bustling!

Just as lunch ended today and the girls were heading back to their cabins for rest hour, the sky began to darken and suddenly our lightning warning system sounded its alarm. A few stragglers took off running, and about 3 minutes later we all jumped when a loud crack of a lightning struck nearby, not so close that we could tell where it hit exactly, but close enough to be frightening. Fortunately, everyone was safely inside, but then as the storm built overhead, the wind picked up, the temperature dropped 15 degrees, and a hard rain began to fall. A moment later, it was hailing pea-sized hail! For about 5 minutes, that storm passed by and put on quite a show. Several girls told me later that this was the first time they had ever seen hail.

The main event of the evening was something many of the girls, particularly the Senior campers, anticipate and look forward to every summer: a dance with Camp Carolina. This was a chance to get cleaned up a bit (find that hairbrush), pull out a special outfit, costume, or glittery makeup, but mostly to enjoy jumping around with friends to favorite pop songs.

With both camps involved, there are too many children to hold a single dance for everyone, so we held two again: one dance at Rockbrook for the younger boys and girls, and another at Camp Carolina for the older ones. For about and hour and a half, both dances kept everyone moving, pausing now and then for a photo or a water break. Everyone was hot and sweaty by the end of it all, but the girls had a great time dancing together and singing along to the songs. Oh, and there were boys there too, though that didn’t seem to matter much. It was a fun, classic way to spend an evening at camp.

camp dance crowd

Nick at Night

Nick at Night camp game

Who remembers watching Nickelodeon growing up? For many of us, thinking of the TV shows we watched when we were younger brings up nostalgia. This year, we decided to combine those nostalgic feelings with the pure fun and silliness that is Nickelodeon into a crazy surprise event! After lunch, we switched up our normal announcements routine and headed out to the hill to watch our lineheads get slimed! Everyone loved watching these special counselors get covered in Nickelodeon-style green slime, but that was only the beginning…

The dining hall was decorated for dinner with streamers and panels showcasing Nickelodeon’s greatest hits throughout the years. During the meal, we played a game of counselor musical chairs — while the music played, counselors roamed the dining hall, showing off their best costumes. When the music stopped, they sat at the nearest table and got to spend time getting to know campers from different cabins and age groups. I loved getting to see all the counselors interact with new campers!

slimed camp counselors

After dinner, we all headed to the gym for an evening program inspired by Nickelodeon’s Double Dare Challenges. We watched as campers and counselors participated in fun and messy challenges like “In Your Egg Hat” – a twist on a classic egg toss, but with a bucket attached to a helmet to catch each egg. However, many people’s favorite part of the evening was the final event. At dinner, each counselor’s chair had a number attached. Our game of musical chairs mixed up the numbers, and to end the night, we randomly selected a few counselor numbers to get slimed! All the campers cheered as counselors got covered in sticky green slime. After experiencing it myself, I can say that waiting for the slime to come was a little nerve-wracking, but the happiness on all the camper’s faces afterwards made it worth it. It was the perfect camp night, full of high energy and a little (lots of) messiness.

Fun Whatever You’re Doing

Camper Art Drawing

If you take a look at Rockbrook’s original catalog, the one published in 1922, the daily schedule includes something a bit startling. First of all the reveille was earlier, 7:15 instead of our 8am wake up bell today, but then at 7:35 there was the “Dip.” That’s right; originally at camp all the girls took an early morning swim in the lake, and as you probably know, our mountain stream-fed lake is well known to be “chilly” or “refreshing” (euphemisms for “cold”). Jumping in the Rockbrook lake that early in the morning was certainly an effective way to wake up, and knowing the campers those days took a “morning dip” everyday helps explain a particularly odd item on the early packing list as well: an all wool bathing suit. Just imagine slipping on your (probably still damp) one-piece wool bathing suit every morning for a swim in the Rockbrook lake before breakfast! Wow! The “Dip” survives today in a tradition we call “Polar Bear,” which is simply an optional event where girls get to jump in the lake before breakfast. Today three cabins made the foggy morning plunge, and even Sarah joined them. One by one, with the shout of “polar bear!” mid-jump, we had 33 three people enjoying their dip this morning… just like the old days.

It’s not too surprising that we had so many girls willing and enthusiastic about taking a polar bear plunge this morning. We are between our July mini sessions, so instead of 210 girls (when the mini sessions are here), we have 115 full session campers right now. Honestly it feels strange to have fewer girls here, but also really nice because these are generally the most deeply rooted Rockbrook girls, the girls who absolutely LOVE camp, who are their best selves, perfectly at ease, and literally delightful (full of delight!) when they are here. For these girls, getting to jump in a freezing cold lake first thing in the morning isn’t weird or some torturous tradition; it’s another opportunity to play, to clap, scream and cheer with friends. It’s a chance to feel something real, to have an unusual experience, and to prove that they can overcome initial hesitation. Here too, like so many things at camp— activities and chores alike —being with friends you know and love deeply, makes whatever you’re doing fun.

learning to kayak
camp yoga class pose

The same could be said for all the activities that filled our morning. The creativity of pottery being glazed, threads and fibers woven into patterns, paint and dye saturating white paper and simple t-shirts. The concentration and determination required to balance on one leg and pull up the Alpine Climbing Tower, or to paddle a kayak through the lake in a straight line, or to fire a 22-calibre rifle with both accuracy and precision. The sheer muscle and effort propelling girls swimming “Mermaid laps,” smacking tennis balls on the courts, or running during the free hour before lunch. The sort of unleashed silliness that inspired so many side ponytails today (including one for me!). Song after song sung louder than usual in the dining hall during lunch… all these and certainly more, were enhanced and made more meaningful by the people and their relationships with each other here at Rockbrook.

girls camp sign along

Our evening program tonight began with everyone gathering in the hillside lodge for a special program of stories and songs presented by our friend Liz Teague. Liz is a singer/songwriter who lives nearby in Asheville, who also worked at Rockbrook years ago as a hiking guide, and whose daughter now works as a counselor. Liz brought her guitar and with help from Sarah and few other staff members, sang several old-time camp songs: “The Cider Song,” “Mountain Dew,” and “How Did We Come to Meet Pal,” for example. Liz also performed her classic “Frog Song,” a Rockbrook favorite about a frog who, after falling into a tub of milk, escapes by kicking enough to make butter. We had campers help by acting out verses of “The Rooster Song” and playing along with homemade instruments like rattles and drums. As the sun set outside, we all enjoyed the fire in the fireplace while we laughed and sang together. We closed the event with everyone making a quick s’more (How could we not with an inviting campfire blazing right there?).

Your daughter will tell you she’s having fun at camp, and you’ll probably think she means dressing up, singing songs, and enjoying all the activities available here. But it’s more than that. She’s also having fun simply being here with all these amazing friendly people (forming real friendships), energized by the positive community spirit, loved and supported by Rockbrook.  It’s truly astonishing!

Girls camp cabin