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.

Slowing It Down

Yoga Camp Pose
Rifle Names

Yesterday, I wrote about the physical activity of camp, highlighting a few of the ways we charge up at Rockbrook, but there are also activities where we ease off a bit and enjoy a slower pace. Yoga is probably the best example. It meets in the Hillside Lodge, and like its twin, the Lakeview Lodge, this building is constructed from massive cut blocks of grey granite, has a 4-foot tall fireplace on one side with a long porch on the other, and a beautiful hardwood floor inside. The Middlers use this Lodge for their Evening Programs, but during the day, it’s a sanctuary of colorful yoga mats, calm music, and relaxation. Mary Alice, our main yoga instructor, leads the girls through flexibility and concentration exercises followed by demonstrations of yoga poses. This might mean simply lying face up on the mat and listening to quiet flute music with hints of lavender oil in the air, and with that concentration established, then sitting up into the “Hero Pose” or “Thunderbolt Pose.” There is plenty of variety according to the age of the girls in the class, but for everyone taking yoga, it is a refreshing experience that nicely balances with other activities in camp.

Riflery could be another example of an activity more focused than frenetic, more composed and concentrated than brisk and busy. Like Yoga, target shooting benefits from first calming down and being aware of your breathing. There’s a stillness to riflery. Once the Instructor gives the standard command to commence firing, the shooters take plenty of time to load each bullet into their bolt-action, .22-caliber rifles, and to take steady aim at the target before firing. When shooting, there is no talking on the rifle range, and with everyone wearing ear protection, only the muffled popping sounds of the rifles can be heard. Scoring each 5-shot target is part of the fun, but I think the girls also enjoy the simple pace of riflery. Here too, it can be a nice change given the tempo of most things at Rockbrook.

Reading a book floating in the lake
Rock Climbing Cool Girl

Here’s another great example of taking it easy at camp— floating in the lake with a good book during the Free Swim period before lunch (or dinner). Most days, you’ll find a few girls doing exactly that, comfortably settled between the chilly water below and the warm sunshine above. I’d say that’s one of the joys of summer! All of these periods of free time, in fact, can be used to take things a little easier at camp. They are chances not only to follow your own interests, but often to simply take a break as well, whether that be to hang out with a book or take a quick shower.

Rock climbing is, at least in one way, another interesting example of a Rockbrook activity built upon careful concentration rather than rapid coordination. Certainly, it’s physically difficult. It does demand arm and leg strength to stand up on small rock ledges and to grip oddly sloping finger holds. At the same time though, rock climbing is akin to meditation as it too benefits from a calm and attentive state of mind. Successfully climbing a difficult route means ignoring how high you are and slowly working out the balance, hand and foot moves needed. Climbing too fast is sure to mean skipping an obvious hold or lead to awkward movements, making the whole experience more difficult and perhaps frustrating. The best rock climbers will look smooth and fluid, calmly in a state of “flow” as they move up the rock. With all the rock climbing at camp— trips to Looking Glass Rock, Castle Rock, and to our Alpine Tower just today —I think some of the girls are becoming a little obsessed with the feeling of “energized focus” rock climbing provides.

Ah, but we can’t “keep calm” for long around here! Tonight for our twilight activity, for example, we offered a classic, a shaving cream fight and slip ‘n slide.  Put together a mob of enthusiastic girls dressed in their swimsuits, give them about 150 cans of shaving cream, and just get out the way. That’s about all there is to one of the funniest, messiest, craziest, and most squeal-inducing events around.

Shaving Creamed Child
Girl Shaving Creamed
Shaving Creamed Kid

Frolicking with slippery foam like this, sneaking up and smearing a handful of the stuff in your friend’s hair, feels as exhilarating as it does mischievous. It’s yet another chance to do something rarely allowed at home, and to do it with a huge group of equally enthusiastic friends. It’s amazing that something this simple can be this fun, but it certainly is.

Shaving Creamed Friends

Hopping and Hustling

Camp girl jumping in the lake
Free time for reading at summer camp

Just before lunch, for about an hour, our daily schedule includes a period we call “First Free Swim.” It’s a time when Chrissy, our waterfront director, and her team of lifeguards open the lake for anyone who would like to come down for a dip. This can be quite a few campers and counselors, so Chrissy stations extra guards and adds additional “Lookouts” to watch every part of the lake. During this time, we also open our 50ft water slide (affectionately known as “Big Samantha”) for those brave enough to climb the tower and hurtle themselves down the slick ride into the lake. Today, while the slide was open, some girls did tricks off the diving board and others simply wanted to float on a tube, relaxing in the sun. Lots of girls swam laps too, trying to reach the number needed to join the “Mermaid Club.”

“First Free Swim” is also simply a block of free time for the girls, a time when they might choose to go swimming, but just as frequently do something else. They might sit and read in the shade of the walnut tree on the hill, work on a friendship bracelet perched high in a red porch rocking chair, meet at the tennis courts to hit a few balls, race flip flops down the creek, play a quick game of tetherball, or perhaps plan to take a shower. And these are just a few of the options… There’s a “Rockbrook Runners” club, the “Green Team,” play practice, hunting for the Rockbrook Gnome, re-checking your mailbox, and of course, just hanging out talking with your friends. What’s important though, is that we have multiple times (there also a “Second Free Swim” period before dinner, and “Twilight” after dinner) built into our schedule when the girls have the freedom to choose what they would like to do. Different from their busy schedules at home, their extensive commitments and expectations associated with school, life at Rockbrook provides time for our girls to pursue their own interests, to set their own pace, and to enjoy this kind of independence. It’s a little strange for children to have this kind of freedom— after all, we adults are constantly telling them what to do —but these Rockbrook girls handle it quite well. They easily stay busy and happily engaged. They love being empowered in this way. In the end, being given this freedom is another boost, experienced firsthand, to their self-confidence.

aiming archery arrow
Child aiming a rifle

In both the riflery and archery activities, we’ve got girls with a serious look in their (one) eye. With this many days of experience banked, with this many bullets and arrows successfully striking their targets, these girls are really becoming great shots! They’re pulling back their bows and loading their rifles with resolute confidence. They’ve mastered being steady, and honed their powers of concentration. For some of the girls, this is serious business because they know that next week Rockbrook will challenges the boys of Camp Carolina in a Riflery, Archery and Tennis tournament. We’ve held this match each session for decades, and no matter what the outcome of the contest, it’s always great fun for the girls to show off their skills.

It’s also a tradition for the girls of Rockbrook to attend a dance with one of the local camps for boys. Earlier in the summer we danced with the boys of Camp High Rocks, but tonight we held an event with Camp Carolina. Actually we teamed up to hold two events, a dance for the younger boys and girls at Rockbrook, and another for the older teenagers at Carolina. This allows us to play more age appropriate music and to reduce the number of children at one venue. The girls anticipated having the dance and were excited to wear a special outfit or crazy costume. One girl dressed as a pumpkin, another a crayon, and another a clown. Several girls wore tie-dye t-shirts and shorts, but in every case this was a time to clean up a bit.

Kids at summer camp dance

At Rockbrook, our favorite local DJ, Marcus, played current pop songs and plenty of group dance numbers (The Cha Cha Slide, for example) making it easy for everyone to join in the dancing. Overall, the dancing was pretty silly, with lots of jumping to reach one hand in the air. The thrill isn’t particularly about individual dance moves or polished displays, but instead is derived from the whole group, crowded together, hopping and hustling simultaneously. As each familiar song was played, the girls screamed and sang along, having an absolutely fantastic time. Also— and this was surprisingly true for most of the teenagers as well as the younger girls —the dance wasn’t much about the boys. It was rather another chance to dress up (silly or not), laugh and act a little crazy, be together with friends, and have a really great time. These girls know how to do all of this, and it’s impressive!

Teen girls at summer camp dance

Easy Living

Namaste Yoga

I am constantly amazed by the intellect, creativity, and sheer drive to achieve shown by Rockbrook girls. They all love to talk to us about their after-school activities—the sports they play, the clubs they join, the books they read, and the milestones they accomplish. We have champion runners, volleyball players, and speech-and-debaters; members of volunteer organizations, bands, and church youth groups; aspiring fashion designers, architects, and actresses.

This astounding variety of talents in our campers is part of what makes our camp such a fascinating place to be. In any given conversation, you never know what viewpoints and past experiences you will be faced with. It offers all of us here the chance to learn from everyone else around us.

Peace and Quiet creek

Despite the pride with which campers display their talents and discuss their achievements, though, I get the sense that one of the primary joys of camp is that this is a place where they get to throw away their after-school schedule for a few weeks. Though we offer runners the chance to run (in the Marathon Club), swimmers the chance to swim (in the Mermaid Club), and artists the chance to create in a multitude of classes, we make it our goal to strip away the competition and the pressure to achieve that can so often be found in schools and sports teams.

Parents often express surprise when their camper, who is perhaps constantly taking part in theater at home, opts not to do the play, or when a track star chooses to join up with Rockbrook Readers during free swim rather than Rockbrook Runners.

Chillin' in the Lake

When I ask such girls why they put aside their hobbies at camp, their answers are remarkably similar. They maintain that they still love their extracurriculars, and look forward to restarting their practices after camp—but they also seem to relish the peace and quiet of camp. They enjoy the chance to craft their own schedules, then wipe the slate clean after three days, and make a new one. They delight in making a bowl in pottery, simply for the sake of making a bowl, not so that they can add another skill to their college resumes.

Lap loom weaving girl

More than anything, though, they enjoy the hours of free time we give them each day—the hours when they can simply lie in the sunshine on the hill, float in an inner tube in the lake, or chat with their friends. They need these few weeks of moving slowly, these days of quiet, these moments of easy living, to recharge for the pace and constant excitement of the outside world. They need to escape the pressures of their commitments, just for a little while, so that, when they return, they can face their lives with a fresh vigor, and return to us next year with a new slate of accomplishments under their belts.

Rockbrook Readers enjoy

Punctuating our Days

Camp salad bar selections

Meals at camp punctuate our day at Rockbrook, as they do elsewhere, but here they are regular times for not only delicious food, but also songs, conversation, skits, surprise announcements, and even dance breaks. As I write these updates, I should probably mention what we’re eating more often because it’s so great. Rick and his team in the kitchen consistently serve balanced, artfully prepared meals that are made from scratch. His entrees, side dishes, sauces and dressings are all made in house, not reheated, frozen, processed institutional “products.” Rick just loves to cook, actually cook, and add his own creative ideas to the process. So here goes… today at breakfast Rick had a giant mountain of fried potatoes that he delicately spiced with a mix of garlic, white pepper, salt and fresh dill.  Those potatoes joined heaps of scrambled eggs and sausages, along with our regular breakfast bar of fruits, yogurt, granola and other cereals. Then for lunch (in between, of course, there was muffin break… Blueberry with cookie crumble topping, this time), Rick made us fried green tomatoes with a mild rémoulade sauce. This involved slicing dozens of tomatoes, soaking them in a saltwater bath, dipping them in a cornmeal/flour breading made with just the right amount of salt and pepper, and frying each slice until golden brown. Outstanding! Dinner was a little more mainstream with his homemade marinara sauce (onions, garlic and carrots first sautéd, with added crushed tomatoes and spices) and pasta with steamed broccoli.  Someone could write a daily food blog about all the wonderful things prepared for us at Rockbrook. Thanks Rick!

Camp child riding a horse

Down at the Equestrian center, Liz, our Director of Riding, and her instructors have been working with the girls in mounted lessons throughout the day. The recent improvement in the weather has allowed our regular riding to charge ahead as well as a few make up lessons to be arranged for girls who missed their riding when it was raining. In addition to the beginners feeling more confident about walking their horses, the ground poles are out, and for some riders, the jumps and other gymnastics have been set up. The girls are returning for each lesson with added enthusiasm for riding, often a desire to ride a new four-legged equine friend, and generally “champing at the bit” 😉 to try the next skill, like learning to trot or the first techniques for jumping. It’s thrilling to see these girls enjoy riding this much.

Teen girls smiling at summer camp
tetherball playing child
Camp girls chatting in crazy creek chair

Blocks of free time also punctuate our days at camp. Tucked in between our four organized activity periods and our three meals and snack breaks, we have three periods each day when the girls can decide what they would like to do around the camp. This might mean heading down to the lake for a ride down the water slide, a quick game of tetherball, lounging in crazy creek chairs, playing a game of tennis, grabbing a quick shower, having a flip-flop race in the creek, reading, writing a letter, or enjoying the view from a red porch rocker. Not everyone or every camp might see it this way, but we believe camp should be a haven from the hectic pace of ordinarily life because kids benefit from the freedom to meander. Our girls feel empowered when they are given a chance to pursue their interests here at Rockbrook. It really is one of the joys of summer… To have time to enjoy all these great things to do with so many great people.

Camp Girls at sliding rock

Let’s take all the Middlers and their counselors, 93 people altogether, to Sliding Rock! That’s exactly what we did tonight, and it was a blast! We started out with a picnic supper in the forest, and then played a few field games to digest a little, but made our way to the rock around 7pm. Sliding Rock is officially closed that late, but going on our own (with our own lifeguards) is great because we can have the place to ourselves and the girls can easily slide multiple times. Tonight the water was higher than normal, and was so powerful, it was difficult to stand in it at the top of the rock. Several strong counselors anchored themselves to help the girls step out and begin their unusually fast ride down to the pool at the bottom. Our last stop of the evening was Dolly’s Dairy Bar. Combining mountain stream, toe-numbing water and ice cream might seem a little crazy (and doing it at night, even more so!), but when it’s this sweet, these girls didn’t hesitate to pick out a flavor. We all returned to camp a little cold and a little tired, but also full of that satisfied feeling of having had a great day at camp.

Girls at Dolly's

A Haven from the Hectic

Does it seem to you like we are living in an increasingly hectic world? Look around and you’ll see families, and more importantly kids, being pulled into a whirlwind of commitments and scheduled activities, all while having less time than ever for quieter, slower things. They’re holding a hectic pace rushing from school to sports practices, from homework to home chores, cutting short time with family, or just the freedom to pursue whatever comes to mind. With rushed meals, complex logistics for “getting things done” and that ragged feeling of not getting quite enough sleep, it’s no wonder kids can so easily be unhappy.

Could it be that by “doing everything we can” to help our kids succeed and achieve, we parents are unintentionally failing to do something else? By charging full speed ahead and taking advantage of every opportunity, what other important things are we missing?

Camp as a sanctuary from hectic living

It reminds me of a quote by Tomas Tranströmer (b. 1931), the Swedish poet who won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature. The author of more than 15 collections of poetry, Mr. Tranströmer has been described as “Sweden’s Robert Frost,” a poet who “gives us fresh access to reality… through his condensed, translucent images.” You definitely should look up his work. At any rate, he also wrote,

You can see beauty if you look quickly to the side.”

Quite keenly, this is a prescription, a welcome reminder that beauty is all around us, that if we stop speeding ahead and take a quick glance to the side, something wonderful is right there waiting to be discovered. It might be as simple as a clump of grass squeezing itself between two bricks, or the decorative trim on an old man’s hat, but more importantly, it could be a person, or a new inspiring experience. It’s pretty clear that as our lives become more hectic, we are missing out on all kinds of subtleties and precious opportunities to expand what we already know. How unfortunate, especially for our kids!

Thankfully, there is summer, a time when kids can slow down and enjoy a meandering pace. And likewise, thank goodness for summer camp, that special place where kids meet wonderful people, and every day encounter fun activities and new experiences. Camp is just brimming with these kinds of positive opportunities to grow. It provides the right balance of structured instruction and free time to pursue casual interests “just for the fun of it.”  At Rockbrook, the rewards of “looking quickly to the side” are frequent, rich and immediate.

While the rest of the world grows increasingly hectic, Rockbrook is an exception. And that’s a good thing.