Full-bodied Excitement

Tetherball game

Tetherball. It’s one of the simplest pastimes at Rockbrook, but also one of the most popular ways for the girls to spend a few spare minutes between activity periods, right before meals, or during one the three designated slots of “free time” each day. There are two tetherball courts at Rockbrook, one by the gym and the more prominent spot near the hillside lodge.  Made from a 10-foot tall locust tree pole, that tetherball court has a cool open feel to it, and since it’s centrally located, seems to always be in action.  Look over the hill and you’re bound to see a colorful ball swinging around the pole on a rope.

The game of tetherball is simple —hit the ball and wrap the rope around the pole as your opponent tries to hit the ball in the opposite direction… whoever wraps the ball completely is the winner.  When someone wins, that’s called a “tether.” The other day a few girls explained some of the other game terminology.  If a player grabs the rope instead of hitting the ball, that’s called a “ropey,” which is a foul of sorts, as is something called a “holdy,” which means grabbing the ball altogether.  When one player commits either of these fouls, the other player is allowed to employ the same foul. In addition to a regular single hit, there are two more hits that more advanced players use: the “double tap,” which simply means hitting the ball once before hitting it a second time, and “popcorn,” which means tapping the ball multiple times before hitting it around toward the other player. In a tetherball match, the winner of a game keeps playing until defeated by a challenger. The challenger always serves, which is a slight advantage. This may all sound like serious stuff, and to an extent it is for some of the girls, but playing tetherball is also a fun game of skill perfect for playing with friends at camp.

devils courthouse pisgah forest

Today the adventure staff announced a trip for the girls up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and a hike that included a stop at Devil’s Courthouse. This is a spectacular destination. At an elevation of more that 5700 feet, it has a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains. On a clear day, you can see 4 different states! This photo shows a girl crouching behind the marker that allows you to identify far off mountain peaks by sighting over the brass cones. It’s quite a steep hike to reach the summit, but this view is really incredible and definitely worth the trip when the weather is nice like it was today.

This afternoon, we paused our regular activities for “cabin day,” a time when each cabin sticks together and enjoys a special activity as a group.  Ordinarily the girls sign up for individual activity schedules, so this is a nice time to bond with bunk mates and do something special.  One group decorated t-shirts with markers, while another used paints to design colorful glass jars.  There was food involved for some— decorating cupcakes for the kitchen, using a scoop to make a huge bowl of watermelon balls, or shaping cookie dough for baking the evening’s cookies. Another group played games like an egg toss, and another took a hike to Rockbrook Falls for a wet-n-wild creek hike.

sliding rock north carolina

All of the Senior girls stuck together for a picnic dinner in the Pisgah Forest followed by a trip to Sliding Rock. This trip has become a tradition of sorts at camp because it’s so popular. The girls love loading the buses and riding high up into the forest to eat dinner and play a few games before screaming their heads off while sliding down the chilly natural water slide. One glance at the photo gallery and you can tell by the looks on the girls’ faces— an extraordinary combination of wide-eyed trepidation and full-bodied excitement —that sliding rock is a true thrill. It was impressive how many girls slid down the rock multiple times, each time getting just a little colder and even more excited for the ride.  The end of night brought all of us (almost 100 people in all) to Dolly’s Dairy Bar, the one and only ice cream stand.  This too is a loved tradition, a must-do part and the perfect cap to this thrilling night out.

rock climbing girl campers

The Need to Meander

goofy camp girls

It’s no secret that life at camp for kids is very different from the rest of the year. Many of the differences are obvious: the activities (archery!), the food (tamales!), the weather (all of it!), the beautiful setting (mountains, waterfalls!), parental involvement (very little), close contact with nature (spiders!), access to technology (none), even our friends (the closest). But there are more subtle differences too: the shared experience and strong sense of community, the lack of academic and social competition, the regular exposure to singing, the opportunity to be creative and face adventure, the almost constant physical activity, the genuine kindness and caring shown and practiced, the face-to-face communication, the celebration of our silly sides, and the regular feelings of contentedness and joy, for example. All of these differences, and certainly more, collectively define camp life. They shape the sleepaway camp experience for your girls.

And that’s a good thing! A great thing! After all, it’s these differences that make camp inherently educational, surprising and delightful for everyone at Rockbrook. These are differences that make a difference. They are the core reason camp is great for kids, how the experience of camp life is so beneficial, even transformative in the long run.

young girl horse riding

Today another word came to mind that helps describe camp life as it differs from our kids’ ordinary experience. It’s meander.  I think it describes well a cherished freedom the girls have at Rockbrook, the regular opportunity to wander and explore what camp has to offer.

Different from the hectic pace required to balance school, sports teams, clubs, afternoon activities and home responsibilities, camp allows girls to decide for themselves how to spend their time.  We provide some structure by organizing activities (times, places, staff and supplies) and scheduling certain aspects of our day (like meals, rest hour and evening program, for example), but also build in several blocks of free time when the girls can play freely, link up with friends, and enjoy a relaxed, less goal driven pace. When there’s no grade, championship or parental praise at stake, girls can truly meander. At Rockbrook, we really value that flexibility, and believe there’s a great benefit for girls to meander, so we encourage it and support it everyday.

Girls Adventure Campers

Meandering, this self-directed exploring, is valuable because it affirms the girls’ personal choices. Not being told which activities to take, which trips to sign up for, and what to do during free time, is not just liberating; it’s empowering. The girls have great options in front of them at camp— play in the creek, or finish a craft project, or join a gagaball game, for example —so no matter what they choose, they can feel happy about what they end up doing, who they are spending time with, and what they are learning. Most importantly though, they can gain insights into their true preferences, and in some ways, who they really are. Granting children this level of agency, in other words, provides an opportunity for self-exploration and character development, no matter how subtly or explicitly.  Maybe we should say kids need to meander, for this reason. And if so, this is another reason a camp experience is so important. I’d say it’s certainly another reason why girls love Rockbrook, and again, why “there’s no place like camp.”

camp girls cheering

Join the Club

Rockbrook is, almost by definition, an inclusive place. When campers arrive, for example, counselors personally greet every camper, welcoming them to the community. It’s non-competitive, so each person’s contributions are equally celebrated. Within this inclusive environment, then, the clubs that have emerged this session have a unique Rockbrook spin on them.

camp free time at creek

To start with, every session, there are a couple of clubs that encourage campers to meet goals. Rockbrook Runners is one of these clubs. They meet every day at Hiker’s Rock at first free swim and go for a run around camp along Charlotte’s Loop, which is about two miles long. Full session campers are trying to log 26 miles, and mini session campers are trying to log 13 in order to enter the Marathon Club. Those in the Marathon club go to Dolly’s at the end of the session. Not everyone runs, of course—there are groups of people running, jogging (known as “yogging”) and walking, so everyone can find a group going at their pace. Rockbrook Runners is a great chance for girls from different lines to get to know each other, and also to behold the beauty of camp in parts they may not usually see.

camp free swim time

If land isn’t your forte, you can also choose to splash into the water. If you’re down by the lake during any activity period or any free swim, you will see girls swimming laps in an effort to enter the Mermaid Club. There are different amounts of laps that each age group is supposed to swim, and then they are members of the Mermaid Club. When they complete the laps, their name is announced in front of the dining hall, and the entire camp sings the Mermaid Song:

Way down at Rockbrook in the chilly lake,
There were some girls a swimmin’ who started to shiver and shake
We saw some scales a glinting and tails they did sprout
Lo and behold a mermaid, the whole camp to shout:
Oh mermaid, mermaid, what’s your name?
[Name! Name!] You’re a Mermaid!

Some girls prefer the more leisurely Rockbrook Readers, who meet on the hillside lodge porch during second free swim with books and sometimes much-needed peace and quiet. The hillside lodge overlooks the mountains, so this informal club enjoys a beautiful view and rocking chairs that create an idyllic setting for reading.

camp friends girls

Campers can depend on these clubs every session of every year. They’re part of the fabric of free swims. Rockbrook is camper-driven, though. Especially in the last few days, as girls are feeling more comfortable and confident, clubs created by campers have been popping up every day. Yesterday, a group of girls created the Fruit Club. This club’s mission is “to learn fun facts about fruit, and to dissect fruit” in order to learn more about it. In a similar vein, the Milk Club was also created. Fellow campers signed up for the Milk Club under their favorite type of milk—2%, Skim, or Lactaid, to be sure to be inclusive of girls who are lactose intolerant. The Glitter Club was also introduced, which is primarily a club of glitter appreciation. Everyone who enjoys glitter is welcome, and they are planning to do things like make friendship bracelets with the word “glitter” on them in order to celebrate their appreciation of glitter.

horse kids camp

That Relaxed Feeling

Weaving Camp Kid

Today we saw more evidence of just how quickly your girls have taken to life at camp. It’s just the first day of activities, and everywhere we look, both the new and returning campers are having a great time with each other. At all the craft activities, hands were busily creating, weaving, painting, pressing clay, trying new friendship bracelets, and decorating all sorts of things. There were balls bouncing on the tennis courts, in the gym for basketball, and out on the gaga ball court. Girls climbed all three sides of the Alpine Tower while others took wild rides through the trees on our zipline course. Girls stretched and posed in the yoga class and made up improvised scenes in the drama activity. Dozens of arrows and .22 caliber ammunition were (respectively!) shot at archery and riflery targets. The sound of the diving board thumping and water splashing all day meant the lake saw lots of action too. Camp life was buzzing with action.

Add to that an absolutely perfect day of weather— brilliant blue skies and sunshine all day, no rain, low humidity and a high temperature barely above 80 degrees —and being here in the mountains was wonderful. Did you know that you can always check the weather conditions here at camp by visiting our weather station on Weather Underground?  On our station page you can find real-time and historical data, as well as weather forecasts for our area.

Rifle Shooting Children

Today was also the first day out on the water for our kayak camp girls and their instructors. The girls practiced their “wet exit” maneuvers (escaping from a kayak after it turns upside down) in the lake yesterday as a refresher, and spent time double checking their boats before loading a van and trailer with other paddling equipment, camping gear and food for their first two-day river trip. These girls already knew each other from camp last summer and had already spent a good amount of time paddling together, so right away they were excited to be set for the next week of river trips. Their plan is to paddle a different river everyday, so we’ll keep you posted about their progress.

Camp Free Time

Describing all the action, the activity that enlivens camp, like this might give you the wrong impression. The busyness is not stressful or burdensome. Just the opposite; there’s a carefree element to it. The girls are relaxing as they play. They’re loosening up while getting to know each other. They’re not rushed from one thing to another. Our daily schedule builds in free time and snack breaks (our famous muffin break in the morning, for example), and has an easy pace. We eat great food, get plenty of rest, and spend the majority of our day outside. There’s time for conversation all day long, time for silliness, dressing up, and a good laugh with friends. A camper told me today that she loves camp because “it’s so chill.” I think she’s noticing and appreciating the relaxed pace of life at camp, especially in contrast to life at school.

I suspect that’s true for lots of girls at Rockbrook. However ironic, they love the relaxed feeling along with the variety of action built into the rhythms of camp life. What a great way to recharge and enjoy yourself. Your girls are already thanking you.

zip line children

Little Paths at Twilight

My favorite part of everyday is Twilight– the time at camp between dinner and Evening Program. Our themed dinners, special trips, or crazy songs aside, dinnertime is pretty self-explanatory. At Evening Program, girls from different age groups retreat to their respective lodges to put on silly skits before ending the day with the traditional Goodnight Circle song and the Rockbrook Prayer.

view of NC mountains at sunset

While these other parts of the day are fun, I feel such a deep sense of love and appreciation for camp at Twilight. The day’s activities have brought the girls out of their shells: Juniors chase each other down the hill in front of their lodge; the tetherball pole hosts a crowd of audience members and competitors; and others enjoy quirky activities put on by counselors. Many times, Evening Program brings a special event that was announced during dinner and girls busily dress up accordingly during Twilight.

Camp girls lounging

Tonight’s Twilight was particularly wonderful. Everyone felt energized after our first full day of camp with the new group of mini-session campers, and the newly arrived campers clearly felt more settled in after an exciting day of trying new things and getting familiar with cabin mates and counselors.

One group of counselors brought biodegradable soap down to the creek for “Mermaid Baths.” Campers bounced down the hill in their bathing suits to soap up their hair, feet, and arms in the cold water. Note: We have made sure that campers know that these do not substitute actual bathing, no matter how much more fun the process!

outdoor yoga kids

Another group circled around one another to do yoga. I watched them take in the mountain view from the top of the hill as they practiced tree poses. They giggled as they tried to keep their balance, occasionally using each other to stay standing on one foot.

Two Junior cabins used Twilight to prepare for their Junior Overnight, which departed right as the bell rang for Evening Program. Most had finished packing early and sat enjoying the sunset for the second half of their free time. I spotted them at the ready, sitting among their sleeping bags, pillows, and stuffed animals.

Castle Rock at twlight

Everything stopped at a certain point during tonight’s Twilight, though. From the hill, we heard “Hello, Rockbrook!” and looked up to discover three or four little figures at the top Castle Rock, the rock face on camp that is a short hike away! Some Hi-Up campers have hiked to the top every single day this session with one of their counselors, and they provided us with a greeting to celebrate. We shouted back, “Hello, Castle Rock!” and girls on the hill waved their arms and delighted in being able to see them wave back.

If you ask me, the best place to enjoy Twilight’s cool golden glow and the merriment on the hill is from Hiker’s Rock. It’s this view of camp that I miss whenever I’m somewhere else, reciting a poem to myself in my head that we read at Spirit Fire.

“You may think my dear, when you grow quite old
you have left your camp days behind
but I know the scent of woodsmoke
will always call to mind
little paths at twilight
and trails you used to find.”
—Mary S. Edgars, To A Camper

Don’t You Ever Worry About a Thing

Sometimes at camp, I ask my girls what their schedule is like at home. Their answers amaze me: their days are jam packed with school, sports, and other activities. My campers are in high school and, as high achievers, I am really impressed that they are able to balance everything and still have time for friends and fun. Still, there is a lot on their plate: between basketball, dance, really challenging classes, and other pressures, many say they get stressed.

They view Rockbrook as a break from that, and Rockbrook is uniquely suited to providing a less stressful environment. At camp, I think we take a step back and look at what really matters, and have patience with the rest. It’s a place where a camper doesn’t have to worry about being reprimanded if she is five minutes late to an activity. Instead, she is greeted with a smiling face and excitement. It’s a place where we wear costumes and do crazy dance moves without fear of being judged. It’s a place where ‘perfect’ doesn’t really matter, but being a good friend does. Without the stresses of our outside lives and with a really loving and supportive community, girls feel profoundly comfortable to try new things and get close with people.

Girls in black with red face hand print

Sundays at Rockbrook really exemplify this. We take things a little slower on Sundays. After the girls’ dance last night, everyone was exhausted, so the extra hour of sleep was greeted with joy. We then ate Krispie Kreme donuts for breakfast (a camp tradition!) before going to chapel. The juniors and middlers led chapel this morning, and we all reflected on the theme of “Playfulness.” We sang songs like ‘Zip a Dee Do Dah’ and girls shared their thoughts on playfulness and how they think about it at camp. It was a perfect way to spend the morning before a delicious muffin break and tidying up our cabins.

camp girls holding award

After that, we had Assembly on the Hill. This is a time for the entire camp to come together and honor cabins with the famous ‘Mop Award,’ or a prize for the cleanest cabin. We also honored girls who were outstanding in the categories of Spirit, Manners, and Bend-a-Back, which means going the extra mile for a friend. After, we watched as the counselors had an old-fashioned water balloon toss. The middlers won!

We have a good amount of down time on Sundays, and everyone appreciates the chance to have a break and hang out for a little bit of time. Bop It has been big in my cabin this session, along with Trivial Pursuit and playing drums. During a stretch of time today, my cabin of fifteen-year-old girls spent time playing together in the creek. Every cabin has something that brings their cabin together, and it is nice to have a little bit of ease in the schedule so we have time to hang out with no rush of going somewhere else.

This afternoon, we had an extra long rest hour (such an important part of the day!) and then it was time for Miss RBC. Miss RBC is basically a talent show where each cabin puts on a skit for the rest of camp. Girls get very creative—the CA’s played drums and interpretively danced/sang to Eye of the Tiger. Senior 4 rewrote the lyrics to ‘Hush Little Baby,’ singing, “You’re going to follow the cardinal bird.” Middler 4 ended up winning—they did a time traveling skit that went through the decades starting in the twenties. They sang songs and did dances from each decade—it was incredibly impressive! Everyone in the audience was wide-eyed and clapped wildly after the performance!

camp skit performance
award winning camper

For Miss RBC, we don’t use outside music or flashy lights. We just need the stage of the gym and a lot of imagination. I think there is something beautiful in the way we are completely captivated and entertained even without all of the distractions we usually would have at home. It is such a simple event to put on, but everyone enjoys performing and celebrating others’ talents.

After dinner, we had a barn party as the twilight activity! Girls could choose to walk down to the barn, play with the horses, eat a Popsicle, and watch the drill team perform! The drill team is comprised of girls who love riding, and they were able to synchronize their moves—it was quite a performance! Afterwards, the drill team members got Dolly’s, an extra special treat!

After a wonderful day of relaxation, it was time for movie night! Girls look forward to this every Sunday night. They bring down sleeping bags and pillows and curl up next to their good friends and watch great movies. Tonight, it was Zootopia! Every age group loves this movie, and many had not seen it before!

Tomorrow, we will return to a normal schedule, which is great because we get to continue doing so many activities! Still, today was a needed day of relaxation. Camp is winding down. Next Thursday, we will be back in our normal lives, back with all of the worries, joy, and support that come with that. What we have learned at camp, though, does not need to stay at camp. Rockbrook teaches us to slow down and reconsider what is important and what is not. We stop worrying about how we are perceived, and we realize that perfection is not the expectation. The biggest lesson I hope we take with us when we leave these mountains is simply: I Am Enough.

If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?

One of the things [Uncle Alex] found objectionable about human beings was that they so rarely noticed it when they were happy. He himself did his best to acknowledge it when times were sweet. We could be drinking lemonade in the shade of an apple tree in the summertime, and Uncle Alex would interrupt the conversation to say, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

So I hope that you will do the same for the rest of your lives. When things are going sweetly and peacefully, please pause a moment, and then say out loud, “If this isn’t nice, what is?” -Kurt Vonnegut

Girl Camp Swimming

Girls savored today as it was the last normal day of camp. Tomorrow, we have banquet, and the day after is the play and Spirit Fire. Today brought us opportunities to finish mermaid laps and Rockbrook running miles. It was a day to give away friendship bracelets and to relish the simplicity of talking to a circle of good friends in front of the cabin.

We have been at camp for quite awhile at this point, and with the end looming so close, I wanted to step back and consider those moments where all is well with the world. These are not the big moments that might stand out in our minds when we think of camp, but the little ones where everything is just going right. There are so many small and beautiful moments at camp, but they happen so quickly that if we don’t acknowledge them, we can take them for granted. We live good lives at camp, and when I zoomed out my perspective, I began to consider the small moments of loveliness that I can overlook after spending many days in this wonderful place.

At camp, we live in a world where…

  1. A fresh-baked muffin greets us every mid-morning. We ate fresh-baked, cinnamon apple muffins that were still warm from the oven. We get a new muffin flavor every day, which makes the rainiest days cozy and gives all of us a little extra warmth from the bakers. It’s a social time, too, as the news of the muffin flavor travels up and down hills and girls bring muffins to their friends who are in hard-to-reach places. I think that starting the day with a muffin makes the day that much better.
  2. We spend all day playing outside and learning new things. Sometimes, we become so caught up in exactly what an activity is doing every day that we forget that we are spending our days playing. What kind of day could be more incredible than one that includes kayaking on a lake, making a pinch pot, and hiking to Castle Rock…all within about six hours? These are days lived fully, where we appreciate every ounce of free time we have.
  3. Camp Girl Friends
    Girl Archer at camp
    Our best friends are our neighbors and we all like each other and are the kind of neighbors who would gladly lend a cup of sugar (or a pair of shoes or costume)! Each line forms a beautiful community of girls who are comfortable with each other. At this point, every cabin has girls from other cabins popping in and out of it; the cabins are much more cohesive than they were three short weeks ago. It is so convenient to be surrounded by good friends all of the time, always ready for a game of cards or a walk to the camp store. The counselors know all of the campers on their line, and when we gather together, there is a feeling of community that encompasses the entire room.
  4. We can choose how to spend our free time and we engage fully throughout that free time. Today, I played tennis with a camper during a free swim, and we had a great time practicing strokes and improving our skills. Many of the girls in my cabin ran with Rockbrook Runners. Then, for another free swim, we took a cabin hike to Castle Rock, a huge rock face that overlooks camp. Sometimes, free time will include One Direction dance parties or badminton tournaments. This time is not always so structured, but if anyone has an idea, we try our hardest to make it happen. We value this time and we try to make the most of it, even on the days that means relaxing and talking to friends on the porch.
  5. We are explorers of the world (or at least Western North Carolina), and we never know what we are going to run into! Our corner of the world is filled with animals and vegetation. The juniors teach the rest of us to explore the world–they are constantly sticking their feet in the creek looking for salamanders and skinks. Other girls decide that they want to romp around the forest and see waterfalls. Camp give us the place, the tools, and the friends to explore the world and teaches us to be more observant.

As these girls prepare to leave and we begin to reflect on what distinguishes camp from the rest of the world, I think these are five things that we have really been doing at camp. To cap off a beautiful day, I went to the Rockbrook Garden with a small group of campers. We showed each other the zesty verbena plant, plucked some strawberries off the vine, and smelled the gentle lavender plant. I realized that at Rockbrook, there are so many moments where I just need to step back and sigh, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

Happy Nice Camper

Fantastic Views

Girls mountain top hiking

Imagine absolutely perfect weather… sunny deep blue skies, a light breeze, low humidity, an occasional wisp of clouds, with morning temperatures in the low 60s, barely reaching 80 degrees in the afternoon. Well, that’s what we had today, and it was glorious. So much so, it inspired us to take a hike with the Hi-Ups along the Art Loeb trail as it crosses into the Shining Rock Wilderness. This trail passes over many of the highest peaks in the area, like Black Balsam Knob (6,201 ft) and Tennent Mountain (6,056 ft), for example. The elevation of Rockbrook, as a reference, is 2,250 feet. Hiking at this elevation feels really high, since everything around you slopes steeply down to hills and valleys below. There are fantastic views in most every direction over the rocky and sparse landscape, with only short bushes, and very few trees to count. The girls loved stopping to take in all this beauty and, of course, to take plenty of photos as well.

Girl Gaga Ball Game
Girls Shooting Rifle

Our “Sports and Games” activity has introduced GaGa Ball (or just Gaga) to the girls and now every moment of free time gathers a group of girls at the gaga pit for a game. GaGa ball is a form of dodgeball where players slap or hit a soft ball around a small octagonal-shaped, walled court. The object is to hit other players with the ball without being hit yourself. Girls have to bend down to slap the ball, keeping it low, but also jump up to avoid a ball hit at them. It’s a fast-paced, physically demanding game that can accommodate up to 12 or so players at time… Perfect for an impromptu game with friends at camp.

The camp rifle range is down a path leading away from the gym (and gaga pit). Newly constructed for this summer, the range allows up to six shooters at a time. It is 25 meters from the firing line to the target, and girls score 5 shots per target shooting .22 caliber short ammunition in our bolt-action rifles with open sights… no scopes, or automatic loading. The girls have to load and shoot each round individually. This slows everything down at the riflery range encouraging the girls to focus and aim more carefully when shooting. With both ear and eye protection in place, time at the rifle range has a more relaxed pace than most things at camp.

Camp Game Show Mania

Tonight’s evening program involved the whole camp in a trivia game. Hosted by Bill Grimsley down in the gym, the game pitted 4 contestants against each other per round of questions. We chose random members of the Juniors, Middlers, Seniors and Counselors play each round. Bill has an entire game show set complete with podiums, illuminated score boards, and buzzers, making the whole event more realistic and entertaining. He directs the show by asking girls questions and awarding points for correct answers. The questions tended to be drawn from pop culture (movies, music, books, and news personalities), but also about Rockbrook (for example, “What are the two rock faces on the camp property?”). Some questions became “challenge rounds,” which meant contestants could earn extra points by completing a task like hula hooping the longest or being willing to eat something unappealing like a spoonful of canned oysters in hot sauce, for eample. The crowd cracked up watching their friends struggle with these challenge rounds. The winners of each round earned a special treat their entire cabin shared later in the dining hall, a giant cookie cake. It was a great evening, full of enthusiastic cheering, celebrations and good silly camp fun.

By the way, the answer is “Castle Rock and Dunns Rock” 🙂

Camp Swimming girl pair