A Forest Camp

Nature Camp CabinLeaf Pressing at summer campOne of the ways we often describe Rockbrook is to call it a “forest camp,” a summer camp in the woods, immersed in nature. It has an organic, rustic feeling with lots of big rocks, ancient trees, rushing water, and a healthy population of small plants and animals ripe for discovery by the girls who live here. Instead of crisp landscaped lines, we are happy to allow tree roots to grow across our path, or moss to cover rocks near the lake. We want our experience at camp to include, not be too sheltered from, the textures and patterns of the natural world. Part of our mission is to bring our campers closer to nature, to learn about its complexity, and experience its beauty and wonder. This is a photo of our “Nature Nook,” a small outdoor forest classroom located just down the path to Rockbrook Falls, the largest of the waterfalls on the property.  It is home to the activity we simply call “Nature.” For campers who choose it as one their activity periods, counselors lead them on explorations of different trees, leaf collections, creek walks, insect identification, salamander hunts and bird watching.  There’s so much to explore too! The 214 acres of Rockbrook are home to incredible natural features, like the cliffs of Castle Rock and Dunn’s Rock for example, but also a few very rare species, like the endangered green salamander.

Another example of an unusual creature found here at camp is the “Blue Ghost” firefly (Phausis reticulata). It’s a small brown beetle, that like other fireflies emits a bioluminescent glow, but unlike the blinking of other species, this firefly lives in the forest and emits a steady greenish light. A few campers have noticed these magical dots of light in the dark woods around camp. They are like shy fairies who glow when undisturbed, but stop quickly when approached. All around us, the natural setting of Rockbrook proves how our “heart of a wooded mountain” is also a magical “fairyland of beauty.”

Camp Basket Weaving in a CreekToday the weavers of Curosty turned their attention to reed, and gathered at the creek to weave baskets. Soaking the reeds in water is an important first step to soften them enough so they can be gently bent and woven. In addition to the standard “under and over” pattern made by the “spokes” (upright strands) and “weavers” (horizontal strands), there are patterns with twists, double strands, and alternating weaves to make more unusual designs. Like many of the other craft activities at camp, weaving baskets is a social event as well as a creative endeavor. It’s a chance to sit with friends and talk while working on a project. In this case, basketry is also an opportunity to soak your feet in a cool mountain stream.

Drama Camp RehearsalJust before lunch today, the drama instructors held their first rehearsal for this session’s musical, the play the campers perform at the end of the session. The cast is still evolving, and will certainly grow when our mini session campers arrive on Sunday, but we already have plenty of enthusiastic singers, dancers and actors ready to become African animals because the play is “The Jungle Book.” Throughout the session the cast will be learning the songs, practicing the choreography, and memorizing their lines for the show which will be presented on Wednesday afternoon before the closing day of the session. Parents are welcome to attend the show, and we will contact you if your daughter will be performing.

Finally, I wanted to mention the amazing dinner Rick and his team prepared for our “International Day” dinner tonight. He made a Jamaican meal of Jerk Chicken/Tempeh, Samosas (remember that a cabin of juniors helped assemble these!), rice, tomato chutney, pineapple and fried plantains. For dessert he had coconut lime bread with a key lime glaze. Wow! So good!

Rockbrook’s Harvestmen

Daddy Long Legs SpiderProbably the most common arachnid (the class that includes spiders) you see around Rockbrook is this little guy. You probably recognize him as a “Daddy Long legs Spider.” And you’ve also probably heard that they are the “most poisonous spider in the world,” but (luckily!) they are not dangerous because their “fangs are too small and short to bite through people’s skin.” With that kind of reputation, this is definitely a little scary no matter what.

The problem is; it’s not true. Also known as Harvestmen, these little guys do not in fact have fangs or any venom at all. It is true their mouth parts are quite small, so they can’t bite you. Overall, they’re totally harmless. They also don’t spin webs because they lack silk producing glands. It fact, technically speaking they aren’t even spiders! They do have eight legs and are in the same biological class as spiders, but are in a different order. It’s just a big misconception that seems to be repeated every summer at camp.

There are more than 100 species of Harvestmen in North America, and they are particularly common in rich deciduous forests (like Rockbrook!) where there are lots of other small insects, fungi, and plant matter they like to eat. When you’re at camp this summer, keep an eye out for these fascinating, and harmless, forest critters.

Green Salamanders at Rockbrook

There is a secret about the western part of North Carolina, something few people know. It is home to more that 50 distinct species of salamanders (Order Caudata), with North Carolina as a whole having the highest salamander diversity in the world! The so-called “Lungless Salamanders” (Family Plethodontidae) are the most numerous and include one species listed as Rare and Endangered by the State: the Green Salamander (Aneides aeneus). This is the only salamander in North America with green markings, hence its name. These little guys have very specific habitat requirements and are rarely seen.

nesting endangered green salamander in North CarolinaRare and endangered green salamander

It just so happens, though, Rockbrook’s Castle Rock and Dunn’s Rock provide a perfect habitat for the Green Salamander. There are plenty of moist, shaded rock crevices for the salamanders to hide in, and for the females, to lay their eggs. Green Salamanders spend most of the year in cool rock crevices, but hide in trees during the summer. They ordinarily live to become 10-15 years old.

Today, Alan Cameron, a 7-year volunteer with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, came out to Rockbrook for a Green Salamander field expedition. Another naturalist had observed Green Salamanders at the base of Dunn’s Rock, so Alan wanted to verify his hunch that they would be on Castle Rock too. Within 4 minutes of arriving at the rock, he found a Green! Alan believes that the environment on the camp property is ideal for this salamander and that there is likely a very healthy population of them here.

It’s neat to know (now definitely) that Rockbrook is home to this rare and endangered species of salamander. This is important because Rockbrook will always preserve its unique habitat and thereby help insure this special amphibian survives.

Sliding Rock North Carolina Fun

Sliding Rock Natural Water Slide in North CarolinaThis part of North Carolina, in the western part of the state, is well known for its lush mountains and waterfalls. In the Brevard area alone there are more than 250 named waterfalls (Do you know the two that are on the Rockbrook Property?). Some of these waterfalls are quite remote and hidden, but others are popular places for swimming.

The most famous example of these waterfalls is Sliding Rock. This is a place in the Pisgah National Forest where Looking Glass Creek cascades about 60ft over a smooth sloping rock and drops into a deep pool at the bottom. The Forest Service has developed it into an organized recreation area so it can provide parking, lifeguards and first aid services during the busy summer months. In the last few years, Sliding Rock has become so popular the Forest Service has begun charging a small fee to use the area.

The Rockbrook Middlers and Seniors take a trip to Sliding Rock most sessions. We go at special times when the area is less crowded and we always bring our own additional lifeguards. It’s a great mountain experience for the girls, and when you top it off with a trip to Dolly’s Ice Cream stand, it really can’t be beat.

You’ll have so much fun, you might raise your foot in excitement!

Girls Exploration of Nature

North Carolina Land Snail

What a great shot! Could it be the rare Noonday Globe Snail (Mesodon clarki nantahala) found only in North Carolina? We’re not sure, but we think it’s a really cool example of the discovery that nature provides girls around camp (It’s lush, to say the least!). A camper in the photography activity took this photo last summer wandering around camp.