A Camp of Goddesses

Leaves in nature goddess hair

Everyone knows that Rockbrook is a “fairyland of beauty” home to countless forest spirits who work tirelessly to enliven our experience of nature and make the camp magical. Just glance to the side anywhere around here, and you’re bound to see something beautiful.  Today Rockbrook was also a land of Greek goddesses.  With a little help from the Hi-Ups, each cabin was given a particular goddess to follow— dress according to her characteristics, use her symbols and icons, and playfully emulate her personality. For example, Selene, goddess of the moon, Gaia, goddess of the earth, and Hecate, goddess of magic all came alive at camp today. Keeping it kid friendly, we selected about a dozen goddesses in all. The costumes ranged from elaborate dresses with crowns and golden jewelry, to delightfully homemade adornments. Ate, the goddess of folly used lots of feathers, while Gaia had leaves, moss, and twigs woven into clothing and hair. Antheia, the goddess of flowers was definitely the most colorful. When all of our various goddesses arrived at their activities, the counselors played along asking them to demonstrate their qualities and special personality. It turns out that goddesses are right at home here at Rockbrook, easily enjoying all the action and inter-action that defines our days.  The girls happily bestowed more magic, folly, nature, flowers and success on all of us.

rocking chair camp crafts

So how is it possible that these girls were so terrifically excited to become goddesses for a day, to dress and behave in costume for everyone to see? Isn’t that just weird, or embarrassing? Honestly, it is, and outside of camp, most of these girls wouldn’t dare walk around with leaves in their hair, or a necklace of clover flowers, or wearing a full-length cloak. At the same time though, there was no awkwardness in this for the campers. They seemed instead to revel in the opportunity to express themselves so freely, to laugh with each other, and to explore untapped aspects of their personality and who they are deep down.

This makes sense when you realize that Rockbrook is a haven for girls, a special place where they feel safe, supported, and valued. It’s an intentional community built upon positive relationships— cooperation, communication, encouragement, generosity, respect and care. Led by a fantastic staff of adult role models, this girls camp community listens and accepts and has an amazing power to bring people closer, foster confidence and grit.

In this special environment where it’s easy to relax and be our true selves, it’s also natural to find friends, enjoy the tiniest adventure, and have the time and encouragement to try new things. It’s a recipe for what the girls simply call “fun.”

It’s also worth recognizing that all too often girls experience the opposite in their daily lives the rest of the year. Life at home and school comes with social ideals and standards, and often kids thereby feel pressure (even anxiety) to perform and even look a certain way.  In the face of competition and lacking genuine community support, our kids ordinary experience can inspire insecurities, self-doubt and unhappiness.

That’s why we were a camp of goddesses today. And thank goodness! These days more than ever, your girls need time and a special place like Rockbrook for them to feel good about being their true selves, to put aside social pressures, to play and to grow.

It’s a daily joy for us to see it all unfold so beautifully.

girl camp buddies

Wonders Everywhere

Sometimes when you go hiking, the aim is not to cover a great distance, or to reach a particular destination. Instead of a goal, it’s a stroll. Instead of striving forward, some hikes are deliberately slow because what’s on the side of the trail is more interesting. Rockbrook is well known (among those who have looked) to be brimming with subtle points of beauty, magical areas of the forest that stand out as special… a clump of moss with the smallest fern poking through, the gnarly bark of a massive pine tree, or a snail silently sliding along a leaf, for example. With just a little imagination, it’s easy to understand all this beauty as the work of nature spirits, or fairies. It’s part of our camp lore; Rockbrook is a “fairyland of beauty,” as one camp song puts it. We live among fairies enlivening our experience of nature. They are rarely seen themselves, but if you look carefully, you can see evidence of them everywhere. Today a group of Juniors took a short hike looking for just such evidence, and to make it even more fun they decided to dress as fairies too. Exploring along the path to Rockbrook Falls, they found fairy houses, fairy gardens, and even fairy playgrounds, as shiny stones, delicate flowers, and colorful lichens proved the Rockbrook Fairies lived nearby. These girls learned that there are wonders everywhere… If we just slow down, look to the side, and pay attention.

Costume Hikers

Our oldest campers (10th graders), the Hi-Ups, helped teach the younger girls another piece of Rockbrook lore today— how to tie the special “Friendship knot” on the red neckerchief of our camp uniforms. We wear our uniforms only on Sunday mornings and a couple of special events, but the red tie, ideally tied with this knot, is a crucial addition to the white shirt and shorts. The Friendship Knot is also called the “Chinese Square Knot,” “Cross Knot,” and “Rustler’s Knot.” When tied properly it has a distinctive square pattern on one side, and cross on the other, akin to the Chinese ideogram for the number ten. It’s not difficult to tie, but like most knots, the best way to learn it is to have someone demonstrate the twists and turns of the pattern. So today Sarah first taught all the Hi-Ups, and once they mastered the technique, they fanned out across the camp to teach the other campers. Friends helping friends tie Friendship knots. Pretty cool!

Sliding Rock Scream

A trip to Sliding Rock is always exciting— freezing cold water cascading down about 60 feet of sloping rock into a deep pool below, and camp girls taking turns sitting in the water for a thrilling ride and plunge —but tonight when we took all the Seniors, it was even more so. The recent record rains in our area have completely saturated the ground, and even after three days of completely dry weather, we are still seeing higher water levels in the streams and creeks. Looking Glass Creek begins high near the Blue Ridge Parkway and when it reached Sliding Rock tonight it had had a chance to build quite a bit. With our lifeguards waiting at the bottom, rescue tubes ready, the girls had a great time sliding in the faster water as it pushed on their backs down the rock. It was loud, extra-splashy, cold as ever, and more adventurous than usual. While not every Senior braved the ride, some slid four or five times, and probably would have kept sliding if we had had more time.

We topped off the trip with a quick stop at Dolly’s Dairy Bar for a frozen sweet treat.  Everyone enjoys a trip to Dolly’s. With all their special camp combination flavors (“Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion,” for example), plus standards like “Cookie Dough,” there’s something everyone likes.  It didn’t take long for the sugar to kick in and the girls to warm up for the camp songs to burst out.  It’s quite something to see when about 85 teenage girls start singing at the top of their lungs.  The word “powerful” comes to mind.  “Impressive” and “joyous” too.  With this kind of great Rockbrook girls, this much fun simply turns out that way!

Dolly's Girls

Colorful Works

girls camp pottery class

This is the time during a camp session when girls can be seen spending some of their free time doing crafts. You see, some of the craft projects can take quite a bit of time to complete. Take weaving, knitting or friendship bracelet making for example where a basic unit— passing the weft, knitting stitches, tying overhand knots —is repeated over and over again. Depending on the size of the project, this can require extra effort to complete. Likewise, other crafts have multiple steps involved. A painting may require a simple pencil sketch before layering on paint, for example. In pottery, there’s shaping the clay (on the wheel, using coils or slabs, etc.), letting it dry, applying different colored glazes, and then firing the pieces in a kiln. The pottery instructors want to fire the kilns on Monday, in time for the girls to pick up their finished work before going home, so there seemed to be a non-stop glazing party in the upper pottery studio today. Both kilns will fire two times over the next few days producing several hundred pieces of colorful ceramic works of art. At least one of them is bound to be yours!

Girls camp woodworking class

There’s always something special, out of the ordinary, being offered at Rockbrook, and today it was a visit to George Peterson’s woodworking studio for a tour and project workshop. Two groups would spend either the morning or the afternoon learning from George and his wife Margaret who is an Alumna of Rockbrook. George is a successful working artist here in Brevard who creates sculpture and functional pieces from different species of wood, old wooden skateboards and skis. He’s displayed his work in galleries across the United States and abroad. It’s no surprise when you see his work. Take a look at his portfolio: The Circle Factory.

Visiting George’s studio is fascinating. He has stacks of raw materials, powerful cutting tools, drills, torches and other scraps of metal he uses to shape and scar wood. There are piles of saw dust, paints and ink, straps of leather, completed projects displayed and works in progress.  Today’s project had the girls making a leather and wood bracelet from a chip of a multilayered skateboard. George and Margaret helped the girls use a drill press, a vibrating carving tool, sandpaper and a metal “RBC” brand to shape a colorful chip that they then sewed to a leather strap. As they completed each step, the girls soon had very cool “wrap around” bracelets to wear, and an exciting story to tell when they arrived back at camp.

There’s a rumor circulating among the campers that there was a midnight party last night. Some of the campers remember being woken long after they went to bed and being coaxed out to the hill where they found glittering fairies dancing, food and drink, and loud Beyonce music. Still half asleep, disoriented by glowing balloons, multicolored glow sticks, and the antics of the fairies, the campers soon found themselves having a fun, outdoor, nighttime dance party! Then as suddenly as it began, the fairies disappeared and the girls were back in bed. It’s just a rumor whether this fairy party happened or not, but I think I spotted some glitter on the hill the next morning. That makes sense, since at Rockbrook, we all know fairies are real.

3 girl campers matching
matching girls campers

Magical Moments


As girls start getting settled into camp and third session has started going full swing, most of them have found that they feel right at home in their cabins. I love looking at how different cabins look and feel. Some are decorated with fairy lights, a camp “bucket list” of all the things the cabin wants to accomplish throughout the session, plus many photographs of camp from years past and friends and family from home. Everything is starting to feel cozy, the noises of the night no longer so scary, the bunk beds and friends ever more inviting.

In addition to the physical space in which we are residing, everyone is starting to get more comfortable with one another. We are moving past basic questions and getting in to the ease that comes with being around good friends. This was particularly appreciated today because we got to hang out as cabins all afternoon—it was Cabin Day! For Cabin Day, we cancel the two afternoon activities and counselors plan fun activities for their individual cabins. Everyone looks forward to cabin day— it usually means an extra special activity, some good snacks, and, of course, lots of time spent bonding together!

Middle School Girls Camp

The counselors put a lot of work planning activities they think their individual cabins will enjoy, and it definitely showed today! One group of junior counselors knew their girls loved playing with hair, so they spray painted hair (it’s temporary!) and braided the girls’ hair. This made every girl have the opportunity to be wacky, but also to feel special as they all had fun helping each other to do some fun hair dos.

Another junior cabin loves fairies (which is something I hear more about at Rockbrook than anywhere else—there is something that is just magical about it). Their counselors planned a great adventure for them, and I loved hearing all about it from the girls! They hiked to Stick Biscuit Falls (the nearest waterfall from camp—you can actually see the waterfall from the new office building) and searched for fairies. Then, after romping around in the woods and finding an adventurous trail back down the mountain, the girls made their own fairy wings! In addition, they came up with their own fairy identities— I heard of a football fairy, a flower fairy, and a nature fairy! The girls told me that their cabin had made a pact to wear their fairy wings at every meal (while they made sure to point out that other fairy accessories were encouraged, but they were not required). This seems like a small detail of a camper’s time at Rockbrook, but these are the magical parts of camp, the things that give cabins a certain identity that they will remember for years to come.

Pokemon Camp Game

The middlers decided to do something as a line for cabin day, and I saw so much excitement as the girls raced up and down the lines. In light of the Pokémon Go craze, the middler counselors decided to bring Pokémon Go to Rockbrook! Each counselor dressed up as a Pokémon and some hid while others went around with the girls. Much like a scavenger hunt, the girls went from station to station and acquired different treats (that were in Easter Eggs) as though they were collecting Pokemon. Then, they got to decorate cookies that looked like the different characters. Finally, to cap off a great cabin day, they all had a “battle” in the gym by playing dodge ball. Everyone had an amazing time and all the middlers were grateful for all the thought their counselors had put into the activity.

For their cabin day, the seniors had a picnic for dinner and then went to Sliding Rock and Dolly’s. The picnic was perfect—the girls ate quiche, warm lasagna, fresh peaches (possibly the best peaches I’ve ever had), and banana pudding. We then played a large group game of “I’m a Rockbrook Girl and You’re a Rockbrook Girl too,” which is a tradition at these picnics and an opportunity for all of us to learn new things about others. Then, girls went down Sliding Rock— they loved the opportunity to slide as many times as they wanted. Though cold afterward, everyone was excited for Dolly’s, the local ice cream shop that names its flavors for the local camps.

No matter which adventure they were a part of, every camper enjoyed Cabin Day. It makes us all to feel more connected with our cabin and lets counselors be creative, choosing things their particular campers will enjoy. Above all, though, growing closer as cabins allows us to feel even more comfortable with each other, and therefore even happier and more at home at camp.

Girls Slide Rock

That Takes Muscle!

George Peterson giving a wood turning demonstration
Sanding wood turning project

We were lucky today to host local artist George Peterson and his wife Margaret (who is an Alumna of RBC) for a workshop on wood turning. George works with wood and is known nationally for his carving, etching and finishings of both functional pieces and sculptures. He’s shown his work across the United States, in New York, San Francisco and Atlanta for example, and recently returned from a gallery opening in Japan. You can see a few examples, including his latest work with old skateboards, on his Web site: The Circle Factory.

Beginning with a block of wood, George demonstrated how a wood lathe spins the block, and when he carefully presses a sharp chisel into the whirling wood, twisty shavings fly away. It’s mesmerizing to see how a uniform bowl is revealed, like it was hiding inside the block of wood. After removing it from the lathe, George then showed the girls how he uses an electric carving tool to shape the bottom of the bowl. The best part was next; giving it a try themselves! With George guiding the tools, the girls took turns working on their own shallow bowls, shaping and sanding them to a smooth finish. After branding each piece with the letters “RBC,” the girls added a coat of mineral oil to bring out the wood’s grain and give the bowls a protective and pleasing shine. George presented 4 workshops throughout the day, giving the 12 girls in each a really cool, unique wooden bowl to keep as memento from their camp session this year.

camp girl weaving on the loom
girls in yoga poses at summer camp
camp horseback rider girl

Meanwhile, the full range of in-camp activities kept hands and feet busy all day. Badminton in the gym, loom weaving in Curosty, horseback riding down at the stables, yoga in the Hillside Lodge, climbing at the Alpine Tower, swimming at the lake, shooting at the archery and riflery ranges: all examples that come to mind. Action springs up in every corner on a day like this, but also a yummy, mid-morning muffin break, free time before lunch to chill out, and a delicious rest hour before jumping right back in for the afternoon. The pace of our day here at Rockbrook is wonderful.

Fairy garden house at summer camp

Hidden in the shade among the ferns and broad-leafed hostas (which by the way are sometimes called “Plantain Lillies”) just behind the office, a few junior campers have discovered a fairy garden. It’s a delicately cultivated part of the forest really, an area that catches the eye as somehow more alive, more intentional and definitely more beautiful… painted rocks, colorful leaves and flowers, neatly arranged pieces of bark, sticks and lots of moss. After discovering it, it made complete sense to help the fairies be more comfortable, so using popsicle sticks, candle wax, string and beads, the campers built houses for the fairies, one with a back porch and another suspended from a low-hanging branch. On the roof of one house, they made their intentions clear by writing, “Welcome Home.”  Now, thankfully, the fairy garden is a fairy village, proving again, thanks to these generous, creative campers, that Rockbrook is a “Fairyland of Beauty.”

The biggest thrill of the day came after dinner when we held a dance, as Rockbrook has for generations, with the boys of Camp Carolina. The girls eagerly look forward to this night as a chance to clean up a little (which of course means firing all of the camp’s tankless water heaters at once), dress up a little, but really to giggle, be silly (again!), and jump around with each other. Tonight we held two dances simultaneously, the Juniors and Middlers staying here in our gym to dance with the younger boys, and our seniors and Hi-Ups heading over to the CCB dining hall for their dance. At Rockbrook, we invited our friend Marcus (aka, DJ Dawg) to pump out the music. He always does a fantastic job playing songs the girls know, as well as songs with popular dance moves like “Y.M.C.A.” The older girls spent a solid hour and a half dancing, at one point forming a conga line, singing along to the songs, and sweating as the night wore on.  That much dancing takes muscle! A little tired and definitely hot on the bus ride back to Rockbrook, the girls seemed to have all good things to say about our excellent night out.

SR teen camp dance girls
middler camp dance for girls

Renaissance Fair Opening Day

Opening Day Arriving Camper

We opened our June mini session this morning and welcomed 70 more campers to Rockbrook, joining the full session girls who arrived last week. About half of these were first-time Rockbrook girls, so for them today brought a particularly energizing mix of new faces, and waves of new sensations— the babble of the streams, earthy smells of the forest, and the whoops and cheers of the counselors. For the returning campers too, opening day is full of delight. You can feel the excitement all morning long, partly because it’s been pent-up for months now (in some cases all year!), but also because it’s so deeply felt. This is camp, and these girls are ready! Now with the dining hall full, and every camper and counselor charged with energy to spare, we have a powerful Rockbrook session underway.

As the mini session girls arrived, the full session campers and their counselors held a brief “Chapel” program focused on the theme of “Encouragement.” The Senior Line campers wrote and led the program. It included songs, like “Lean on Me”and “You’ve got a Friend in Me,” as well as quotes from Henry James about being kind, Maya Angelou, and others. It was a nice opportunity to think about why encouragement is so important and why it’s so valued here at Rockbrook for its role in forming a close community of people. Encouragement is simply a part of our camp culture.

After lunch and a brief break for Rest Hour, the whole camp enjoyed a very special afternoon event held on the lawn of the Clarke-Carrier House in the center of camp. This house, which predates the camp, was the childhood home of Rockbrook’s founder, Nancy Barnum Clark Carrier. Also known as the “Rockbrook House,” you can see its location on the camp map, and read more about its history, but it has a wonderful terraced lawn that was perfect for our event: a Renaissance Fair.

Renaissance Queen Kid
Renaissance Fairies
Renaissance Throne Kid

The event was amazing. It had more than 11 different activities for the girls, music, food, and thanks to everyone’s creativity, very cool costumes to bring the scene to life. There was an inflated jousting game, a water balloon catapult, a “photo booth” filled with Renaissance-inspired props, crowns to decorate, and wax candles to make. Down the path a little ways, there was a fairy garden, complete with bubbles and twinkling lights. There the girls could join a drum circle. Also nearby, counselors were painting faces, and braiding hair with flowers, leaves, and ribbons for decoration. A fortune teller offered to give advice and a henna tattoo artist decorated campers’ hands with small designs. There was plenty of food to enjoy as well, including roasted turkey legs, hunks of baguettes, popcorn, cotton candy, snow cones and cups of ginger ale. With so many options available, the campers had a blast going from one area to next. Some carried giant turkey legs, while others nibbled cotton candy. The costumes, face painting and decorations, plus the music and the backdrop of 100-year-old boxwood bushes and the historic camp house, all added up to make the afternoon unforgettable.

Catapult Queen kid
Renaissance Fortune Teller
Renaissance Jousting Game for Camp
Rockbrook Clarke Carrier House

A Calm at Twilight

Friendship Bracelets on the Porch

Tonight, during Twilight, I took a walk. Ordinarily, in that quiet hour just after dinner, I’m holed up in the office answering emails or returning phone calls. But tonight, after two gloomy days of drizzling rain, I decided to walk out beneath the clearing skies and see what there was to see.

Twilight is always a bit of a hodgepodge—you never know quite what you’ll get. There could be an all-camp event, like a dance or auction; there could be an impromptu gaga ball tournament, or a meeting of Rockbrook Readers on the Hillside Lodge porch; or there could be no organized events at all, just campers milling about and choosing their own way to fill the time until the bell rings for Evening Program.

Gaga Tournament

Tonight was that third sort of Twilight—the best sort, in my opinion. Campers ranged across the hill in the waning light. Clusters of girls sat on the still-damp grass, making friendship bracelets, chatting about their day, and watching the sun set.

A line of older campers, wearing workout clothes and kneepads, trooped down the hill to the gym, to play some volleyball. They talked and laughed as they made their way down the hill—some linked arms, some called up to their friends, sitting on the hill, asking them to come and watch the game.

Just Hanging Around

During this particular Twilight, the Dining Hall was being cordoned off by the CA’s. They’ll spend tonight and all of tomorrow transforming our everyday Dining Hall into another world of their creation. Their excited laughter seeped out from beneath the sheets they’d hung over the building’s screens and doors (to guard against curious eyes). Already, I could feel the anticipation for tomorrow night’s Banquet beginning to build.

Say Cheese!

I sat with two Juniors on Hiker’s Rock for several minutes, watching as they built a fairy house (I tried to help, but I don’t have quite the knack for fairy architecture that they do). Their focus was admirable, and their conviction was complete that this structure would indeed be the home of Rockbrook fairies—and who am I to say that they were wrong?

Everybody Smile!

The whole of Twilight was like this—peaceful, quiet, and happy. Mixed into the atmosphere, I think, was the knowledge that things would begin to speed up again soon. Tomorrow, there will be a steady increase of energy and anticipation, leading to Banquet. Wednesday will be a blur of packing, moving, plays, and Spirit Fire. Thursday, camp ends.

But tonight, we all took a breath together. We relished one last time the quiet and the ease of camp, and didn’t allow anything to make us to feel hurried or anxious. We sat beneath the dripping trees, and watched as night settled into place around us, content simply to be with one another.

A Sense of Wonder

Girl Drawing Class

It’s easy to see how there’s excitement around every corner here at Rockbrook. During the activity periods the girls are happily busy, fully engaged in crafts, sports, and adventure. They’re folding and tying white t-shirts preparing them for colorful dyes, and guiding rackets to tune their tennis serves. They are exercising their bodies and their imaginations riding horses and performing short improvisational skits. Each scheduled activity offers ways to play, to learn and to have fun with friends.

In addition though, there’s an added ingredient at Rockbrook that makes this more than just entertainment or a fleeting diversion, and it has to do with the sense of wonder that blossoms so easily and often throughout our day. These are moments when we are suddenly confronted by delicate natural beauty, like a spider web freshly weighted by drops of dew, or the zing of putting your feet in a chilly stream, or the sharp call at dusk of a Pileated woodpecker, for example. Simply being outside in this beautiful place is wonder-ful. It inspires Rockbrook girls to open themselves to new and fascinating experiences. And when combined with the caring encouragement of their friends and counselors, camp fosters courage and fascination rather than hesitation when encountering the unfamiliar. It teaches girls that the world is an amazing place ready to be explored, that curiosity will enrich their lives with delightful people, places and things. We hope that our time together in “the heart of a wooded mountain” at Rockbrook can be a lasting resource for our girls, a deep lesson about the joys of discovering the wonder of the world.

Camp Yoga group pose
girls cooling their feet while doing yoga

Here are a couple of photos taken of our Yoga classes taught by Mary Alice. They ordinarily meet in the stone “Hillside Lodge,” but can be held anywhere in camp where those purple mats can go… like here, for example, when the group decided cooling their feet by the creek would be relaxing. With a little quiet instrumental music in the background, Mary Alice guides the campers through a series of Hatha Yoga postures and controlled breathing. For many of the girls, these classes provide welcome moments of mindfulness and focused attention far removed from the ordinarily high-speed pace of camp life. In this way, they too can foster a sense of wonder for the girls.

Camp kids whitewater rafting trip
Camp Kids smiling in whitewater raft

Throughout the day we took about a third of the camp, almost all of the Middlers and Seniors who had not yet gone this session, whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River over in Swain County. This is quite a logistical challenge when it includes 76 campers, 6 staff members, 7 whitewater guides, 6 bus drivers, 1 Rockbrook director, lunch for 100 people, and all the whitewater equipment for the trip itself. But we have plenty of experience making it happen, and all in-house without hiring a third-party company to handle it. The trip itself is a combination of electrifying rapids, like the “Quarry Rapid” that has several large waves in a row, and calm sections where there’s time to chat with everyone in the raft, maybe start a splash war between boats or the girls can test their nerve with a quick leap into the (very!) cold water. It was a gloriously hot day, perfect for rafting, and the girls had a ball laughing and screaming all the way down the river.

This last photo is another great example of how Rockbrook is helping to foster a sense of wonder for your girls. For generations, girls have been struck by the natural splendor of Rockbrook, even describing it in one of our traditional songs as a “Fairyland of Beauty.” Spending time here in this ancient forest, among powerful trees and other bristling plants and critters, it feels magical, almost like everything is the work of tiny, winged fairies. Tonight after dinner, Pam our talented gardener, hosted a “Wings and Bling” garden party for any girls interested in making a fairy house, or a potted arrangement of flowers. Using bark, moss, flowers, polished stones, bits of cloth, Mardi Gras beads (from tonight’s fun “birthday night” dinner), and anything else the girls felt inspired to include, the group made a entire Fairy village. Such imagination and creativity! Later, two campers, with complete sincerity, suggested that the Fairies would enjoy a bedtime cookie and we should leave a bit for them in their village. All, so so wonderful.

Garden Fairy Village