A Kind of Delirious Abandon

kid in canoe on camping trip

There’s a long history of Rockbrook girls spending time canoeing on the French Broad River.  We have photos from the 1930s of campers and their boats in the river. In fact, the camp has about 3/4 of a mile of shoreline on the French Broad not far from its true start in Rosman where two smaller streams come together. Once it passes Rockbrook, the French Broad flows north toward Asheville, continuing to form the Tennessee River, which feeds the Ohio River, finally becoming the Mississippi. In addition to beginner kayaking trips, Rockbrook takes girls canoeing on sections of the river, like for example last night when 12 girls and 2 staff members packed camping gear to paddle and then stop for the night part way through. As the river winds its way through valley farmlands, low trees and bushes line the banks revealing views of the nearby mountains from time to time. There are designated camping spots, usually grassy areas along the river, where groups can pull up their boats and pitch tents.  Our girls had a great time at their campsite playing games after dinner and watching a gorgeous sunset. The weather was likewise perfectly pleasant making the whole trip a grand time out.

The surprise muffin flavor today was mind boggling: chocolate chip cookie dough. It began with a regular chocolate chip muffin, baked to a perfect light brown with a moist crumb. That would have been delicious alone, but what pushed it over the top was the small chunk of cookie dough on top of each muffin. Needless to say, the whole camp was thrilled to bite into one these special treats.

One way the girls at Rockbrook express their enthusiasm, creativity and silly nature is by dressing up. Today was declared “Under the Sea Day,” so we had fun decorating the dining hall with ocean-related banners, searching the camp for a hidden “Nemo” and “Dori,” and creating costumes to wear all around the camp, to meals and activities. There was an octopus playing tennis, a shark lifeguard at the lake, and a scuba girl working at pottery.  It was another day proving that costumes really do make things more fun— funny and fun!

Shaving Cream Kids Camp

The funniest event of the day, though, happened after dinner down on the sports field. It was a wild shaving cream fight for anyone brave enough to get this messy. Girls of all ages, yes even the teenagers, showed up wearing swimsuits ready to smear and be smeared. This kind of delirious abandon— running, squirting, laughing uncontrollably —is simply extraordinary. You’ve never seen girls so elated, and so many of them at once! We had a couple of hoses set up to rinse off a bit as necessary, like when some mischievous friend splatters a handful of the white stuff in your ear or some gets in your mouth. The slip and slide we had set up was also really fun when covered in the slippery foam. It doesn’t take long to empty 150 cans of shaving cream, but the fun doesn’t stop there. There are creative hairstyles to fashion, messages to write on your belly, and photos to take with friends.

It’s no surprise these Rockbrook girls are quick to say, “I love camp!”

A Pervasive Spirit of Creativity

weaving pot holder

Why are there so many craft activities at Rockbrook and why are they so popular? It seems like everywhere you turn there are girls creating something complex and colorful, combining unexpected materials, contrasting and coordinating with beautiful results. One answer is that there are intriguing techniques to learn and inspiring instructors excited to share what they know. In pottery, for example, the girls have become fascinated by the wheel and have been eagerly giving them a spin. It’s fascinating to watch a carefully centered ball of clay turn, and then muddy yet steady hands, gradually shape and pull the clay into a bowl or cup. Just seeing it makes you want to try it. Likewise, there’s a fascination to tie dying, the careful folding, twisting and tying of the white t-shirts. When the richly colored dyes soak into the shirts after being selectively applied from plastic squirt bottles, it’s like a flower blooming in slow motion. It literally brings out “ooohs and aaahs.”

I also think there is a pervasive spirit of creativity here at Rockbrook, and while that spirit also drives our enthusiasm for costumes, writing and singing songs together, and performing skits for each other, it finds daily expression through the many craft activities available. Weaving potholders or larger fabrics on the floor looms, layering colors of paint on paper, tying intricate knots in cotton thread and stringing beads for a bracelet, the girls can be imaginative and inventive in ways that we are quick to celebrate. That kind of encouragement to be boldly creative feels really good and is lots of fun.

Teen Girl Canoe Trip

Finally, I’d say our craft activities are popular with the girls because here at camp— and this is true for almost everything we do —we do them together. We share the experience with each other, with people we care about and know so well. In other words, the camp community enhances the process of making art, of being creative, and developing artistic skills. With a group of girls knitting on the back porch of Curosty, the group will be laughing and chatting.  Being social, reacting to each other’s excitement, or perhaps being quick to lend a hand with a challenging bit, adds to the joy of weaving a basket with your feet in the creek… “Doesn’t the sun feel really good next to this cold water?” Whether it’s paddling a canoe down the French Broad River, shooting archery, or decorating a memory box, having good friends around to do it with makes the activity more meaningful.  Being a little slower paced, our camp craft activities are particularly good examples of this, but doing so much around here together, as a community, is another reason camp life is so great.

And none of these reasons craft activities are popular at camp (the inherent opportunities to learn, create and socialize) rely on the quality of the final products the girls make— the paintings, pottery sculptures, weavings, and so forth. The real rewards come from the process rather than the end result. The process of making crafts together is way more important than having the crafts they make.  Sure, the girls are also proud of what they make, and they’ll probably present something they’ve made to you as a gift on closing day, but while they’re here, the fun is in the making. It’s in dressing up, and not so much in the nature of your costume. The fun is the hiking, and not the destination (Turn that goal into a stroll!).  I think that focus is another ingredient in the secret sauce that is camp.

Girls silly costumes

Rock and Brook

Set here in the mountains of western North Carolina, the topography of Rockbrook is really something special. Within its 220 acres, the camp includes amazing natural features including prominent rock outcroppings, waterfalls, creeks and the French Broad River. If you haven’t seen it already, watch this video and then scroll through the posts in this archive about our area in North Carolina. You’ll be impressed by the natural beauty of the camp property and its surrounding area.

After learning more about the camp topography, you’ll quickly realize that when Henry P. Clarke, the father of the camp’s founder Nancy Barnum Clarke Carrier, named this property “Rockbrook,” it was a particularly apt name. Situated between (and below!) two rock landmarks (Dunn’s Rock and Castle Rock), with numerous boulders scattered all around the camp, and as three named creeks (Dunn’s Creek, Rockbrook Creek and Hanty Branch) and several smaller tributaries of the French Broad river carve rocky courses through the camp, the terrain here is very much both stone and water, rock and brook.

camp kid zip line ride

Our camp program benefits from these topographical features in a number of exciting ways. There are excellent hiking destinations for example: the magnificent mountain view from the top of Dunn’s Rock, the spray to be felt at the bottom of Stick Biscuit Falls, and the mysterious “Kilroy’s Cabin” found only by bushwhacking for more than a mile through the woods. We have 5 different climbing routes on Castle Rock to tackle, and down below, a nice sandy eddy we can use to launch or take out canoe trips on the French Broad River. A particularly cool example, though, is our camp zip line course since the zips are built between boulders and over creeks. It takes about an hour to do the whole course— 3 zips and 3 challenging adventure bridges —and it continues to be one of the more popular optional activities we offer. The last zip is the fastest and goes right past the office building at the top of the hill giving everyone on the porch a front row seat to see the aerial poses, wide-eyed grins, and hear the yelps of delight multiple times each day.

gaga ball game

Equally popular this session, though for different reasons, has been Ga-ga Ball. Played down near our gym in a special octagonal court of 30-inch high wooden walls, GaGa is a form of dodgeball that’s nicely fast-paced, and well-suited for multi-age groups of girls. Three people or thirty people can play, so it’s a great “pick up game” for the girls during their periods of free time each day (before lunch and dinner, and during Twilight in particular). The object of Gaga is to avoid being hit in the legs by a soft ball as it bounces around inside the court after being hit (not thrown) by the players. It takes quick reflexes to jump out of the way as the ball bounces wildly off the walls of the court and the other players alike. Once hit, a player hops out of the court dwindling the number of girls still playing. As the game progresses and one person is left (the winner), the game is over, and everyone can hop back into the court to start a new game. Perpetual play!

camp girl dancing

Tonight’s Evening Program allowed us to dress up, be silly, and go a little wild on the dance floor. We held an all-girl “glow dance” down in the gym. Without much encouragement, the girls dressed in tie dye t-shirts and other colorful costumes. We pulled out neon face paint to add dots, swirls and stripes of color to their looks, and when we handed out a few hundred glow sticks, dimmed the lights in the gym, and began pumping out upbeat, popular music, we had a fun dance party.  No boys, no pressure, no judgment: there was just unbridled excitement and glee as song after song got the girls dancing.  And these girls know how to have fun in the groove! —lots of jumping to the beat, well-rehearsed dance moves now and then, and plenty of hands-in-the-air, singing-along choruses.  It was another great camp event celebrating the fun of being together, feeling happily relaxed and pulled into an activity so thoroughly that you forgot most everything else and time flew by… so good, and just how we all like.

All girl glow stick dance

It’s Jug Band!

Kids make tie-dye t-shirts at summer camp

When girls select the craft activity we call “Hodge Podge,” they learn what could be described as a camp tradition: how to make a tie-dye t-shirt. Made popular in the 1960s, but before that practiced in West Africa for centuries, tie-dying found its way to summer camps. And judging by all the stripes, swirls and ribbons of color seen on t-shirts around camp, that tradition of using dye to decorate clothing is clearly still strong at Rockbrook. The process starts by soaking your cloth (usually a t-shirt, but anything cotton will do… Socks, bandannas, or pillow cases, for example) in a solution of urea which helps keep the cloth damp when the dye is applied. Next the cloth is twisted, folded or tied with rubber bands into repeating patterns like spirals, v-shapes, or bullseyes. Then, using plastic squirt bottles, you carefully drip different water-based colored dyes onto the cloth. After a day of letting the dye “set,” is very exciting to untie the cloth and discover how the dyes have blended and been absorbed differently where the rubber bands were tight. As you can see from this photo, the result are eye-popping!

Kids Summer Camp Canoeing Trip

This morning Andy and Emily led a group of campers on a canoe trip down a short section of the French Broad River. This river has its headwaters near the town of Rosman (still in Transylvania County, where Brevard is the county seat) not far from camp, and as it slowly grows in size, it passes by the Rockbrook Camp property adjoining several of our horseback riding pastures. This is very convenient because it allows us to begin a canoe trip upstream, and, as was the case today, paddle to a point on camp property to take out. There are several public places to put on the river so we can run a shorter or longer trip depending on the skills of the paddlers and the amount of time we have available. Today the girls had excellent sunny weather and spent a good hour and a half out on the water. The French Broad ultimately forms the Tennessee River, and from there leads to the Ohio, and finally the Mississippi River. So I suppose if we had enough time (i.e., probably a few months), Rockbrook girls could start at camp and paddle all the way to New Orleans!

Young kids happy at summer camp

Another event at Rockbrook that has become a tradition is a visit to the local ice cream stand known as “Dolly’s Dairy Bar” or just “Dolly’s” for short. I would guess every child in the area, certainly all the children at Rockbrook, believes Dolly’s has “the best ice cream in the world,” as one camper assured me. So it’s a big deal to stop and sample one of the unique flavors offered, flavors named after the 20 or so nearby summer camps. For example, there is “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion,” “Falling Creek Fantasy,” “Green River Plunge,” and so forth. Each of these camp flavors is a different combination of ice cream and toppings already mixed in, and they are wonderful. Today after lunch we took two cabins of Junior campers to Dolly’s and had a grand time sitting outside licking our cones and posing for photos (often with freshly signed— by Dolly herself —stickers). Ultimately, the idea of making an “ice cream mustache” caught on and got a little messy, but that’s the kind of fun that’s easily cleaned up with a few napkins in the end.

Campfire mountain music songs

Our evening program tonight was something we call “Jug Band,” an all-camp campfire that included live music and costumes in the spirit of traditional, though in a “Hee-Haw” inspired way, Appalachian culture. The counselors and campers dressed in their best overalls, straw hats, and flannel, braided their hair in pigtails, and painted freckles on their cheeks to complete the look. With three guitars, a banjo, ukelele and plenty of makeshift instruments like shakers and other “jugs” to play, we enjoyed a program of sing-a-long songs punctuated by jokes and short skits. “She’ll be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountian,” “Mountain Dew,” and “Wagon Wheel” were the clear favorites, even inspiring some dancing as well as singing. With the crickets chirping along and the occasional bullfrog from the lake contributing a note now and then, the whole camp sounded great. Great camp fun, and an excellent way to end the day.

Costumes and Silliness at costume campfire

Terrific Trips

Let’s begin with breakfast, as we did this morning at 8:30am. Our Kitchen Manager and Head Chef, Rick, draws upon his 5 years of experience planning meals and cooking for Rockbrook (plus 9 years at other organizations) to surprise and delight us everyday with yummy meals. His goal is to provide healthy foods, made mostly from whole and natural ingredients (not pre-processed), that strike a balance between being “kid friendly” and “unfamiliar.” For example, this morning Rick started simply with hot scrambled eggs with yellow corn grits and fried country ham. But to mix it up a bit, Katie, our baker, brought out trays of homemade, freshly baked biscuits to go with the slightly sweet and spicy red-eye gravy Rick brewed (yes, it did have a little coffee in it!) as well. With orange juice, and a small bowl of fruit and yogurt from the breakfast bar, this was a complete— beyond complete —breakfast. And it was delicious! By the way, have you seen Rick in our video about the food at camp?

Camp kid eating a fresh muffin

You may have heard about the special snack we serve between the first and second activity periods each morning around 11am: freshly baked muffins. Katie tries to surprise us every day by alternating between traditional flavors like Lemon Poppy Seed or Pumpkin Chocolate Chip and more creative, one-of-a-kind recipes like Peach/Mango and Carrot/White Chocolate. It’s a big event to swing by the dining hall porch when the bell rings for “Muffin Break” and sample the day’s surprise flavor. Being able to catch up briefly with a friend before heading to a different activity, and to enjoy a soft, sweet muffin each day, is a wonderful Rockbrook moment we all love. When your girls return home in a couple of weeks, be sure to ask them what flavor of muffin was their favorite.

Camp horse named Hula Hoop

Here is one of the stars of the Rockbrook horseback riding program this summer. He’s Hula Hoop, an 18 year old Belgium Warmblood who comes to us from St. Andrews University and their Therapeutic Riding Program “Ride Like a Knight.” When he was younger, Hula was a top-ranked show horse competing in everything from Grand Prix to 3’6″ hunter shows. He’s won many top prizes, but for our girls, he’s a gentle, steady mount. Overall, we have 29 horses and ponies comprising the Rockbrook herd this summer. The girls are getting to know them in the stable club, grooming them and learning about other aspects of horse care, and then when it’s time to ride, friends with names like Hula, Lacy, Tony, Onyx, Gordon, or maybe Cool Beans are happy to oblige. Despite the rainy weather we’ve been having lately, Riding is still a popular activity at camp.

If you’ve looked at the map of Rockbrook, you’ve probably noticed that the French Broad River creates the western boundary of the camp. The French Broad begins in Rosman, NC when four creeks come together. From there, it travels more than 200 miles northeast and then west to Knoxville where it joins the Holston River to form the Tennessee River, which eventually flows into the Ohio River and the Mississippi. So, yes, you can launch a boat at Rockbrook and (after several miles of paddling!) come out in New Orleans.

Camp Girls Canoeing trip

This morning a group of Rockbrook girls set out in Rosman and paddled canoes 3 miles of that long journey. After pairing up and deciding who would paddle the bow and stern of the canoes, Emily reviewed for the group paddling strokes, cautioned everyone about avoiding trees along the edge of the river, and instructed them what to do if they tip over and end up in the water. Once underway, she also demonstrated how to cross from one side of the river to the other (“ferrying”) and how to stop in a calm area of water behind an obstacle (“catching an eddy”). As you can see from this photo, the weather was gorgeous and the girls spent the whole morning enjoying themselves on the water. Several of the girls commented that canoeing was their new favorite activity. It was that kind of perfect trip.

2 camp girls taking a ride down sliding rock

The entire Senior line, all 84 campers, took a different trip this evening. They loaded into buses and vans for a picnic in the Pisgah National Forest, a ride down Sliding Rock, and a cup or cone of their favorite flavor of Dolly’s ice cream. One highlight during the picnic was getting everyone to skip and play together in the grassy field. We must have played “I’m a Rockbrook Girl” for almost a half hour! At Sliding Rock, we found the water to be a little higher than usual (another indication of the wet weather these last weeks), but also a little colder too. That’s a big part of the fun though… the bone-chilling shock of icy water splashing up your back when you first sit down to slide. Plunging into the pool at the bottom and going under the water feels almost electric. It instantly evokes an urgent need to “get out of this water, NOW!” For some girls, this is fantastic fun, shivering, blue lips and all, while for others one trip down the rock is plenty. For everyone, this is the kind of mountain experience they look forward to at camp… likewise, for our stop at Dolly’s. This lovely ice cream stand, located at the entrance to the Pisgah Forest, serves more than 20 unique flavors of ice cream, combinations of ingredients really, named after each of the local summer camps. The Rockbrook flavor, for example, is called “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion,” and is chocolate ice cream, fudge, brownie bits, with peanut butter cups. Every camp flavor is different, so it can take a while just to read the menu! You might think that after freezing ourselves in the water at Sliding Rock we wouldn’t be interested in ice cream, but this is, as one camper put it, “the best ice cream on earth!” With ice cream to top it off, this was another terrific trip.

Camp Girls eating ice cream at Dolly's Dairy bar

Colorful Treasures

Child glazing a pottery teapot

The glazes are out! In both pottery studios at camp, the girls have now finished many of their pieces— the bowls, soap dishes, textured tiles, cups, mugs, and plenty of sculpted animals —and are excited to give them a little color.  There are 25 or so different colors to select and then paint onto their clay creations before Katie and her pottery staff carefully stack them into the kilns for firing.  That’s where everything is transformed into beautifully shiny (now colorful) works of art.  Glazes blend together, maybe drip and run a little, and change color quite dramatically, so it’s never 100% predictable what a glazed piece of pottery will look like when it emerges from the kiln. It’s so exciting to find out! Later in the week, after everything is fired, we hold a big “Pottery Pick Up” day for the girls to come claim their work.  All the finished pieces are laid out on tables so everyone can relish the creativity and see the huge variety of items the campers have produced over the session.  Don’t be surprised if you have a box of pottery treasures to transport home next week.

Kids Camp Canoe Trip

The weather this morning was so wonderful, Emily decided to announce a canoe trip on the French Broad River. Warm sunshine is always an inspiration for a paddling trip and today that was true too because it took very little time to fill the trip with 12 excited Juniors. Also, the girls were enthusiastic to get out on the river after learning their canoe strokes on the lake. They paddled a section of the river right near camp, a short section that kept them on the water for about an hour and a half… just about the right amount of time. Canoeing is one of the adventure activities that Rockbrook has offered since its founding. It’s one of the classic outdoor pursuits that, with this kind of introduction, can become a lifelong treasured hobby.

Children at summer camp square dancing

After last week’s Saturday night dance, we changed it up tonight and held a square dance with the boys at Camp High Rocks, which is located just up the mountain from Rockbrook. You might think that going to a square dance would require less primp and prep, but there’s still hair to braid, plaid to find, and for some, boots to brush. We held 2 dances simultaneously, one at our gym for the older girls and the other outside on the High Rocks tennis courts. The idea of square dancing with boys can cause a little anxiety… not really knowing how to do it… having to hold hands! …but everything is lighthearted, and after all, part of the fun is making mistakes and laughing when you spin the wrong direction or grab the wrong hand. The counselors are dancing too, so this also helps the campers relax and enjoy themselves.  In the end, despite being a little new to everyone, and maybe a little challenging as a result, we had a wonderful evening.

Trail Rides at Rockbrook Camp

Horseback Riding at summer camp
Campers gather near the old barn for a trail ride, 1920’s

In the early days of Rockbrook, trail riding was a popular activity.  Rockbrook’s location 3 miles from Brevard was far enough from the hustle and bustle of town to allow the girls to ride to the river or down the road towards Caesar’s Head.  They also had daily instruction in the ring on what is now our sports field.  In the 1920’s, Mrs. Carrier along with the barn staff would even ride the horses over Caesar’s Head and down to Greenville to return them to their winter home. What an adventure!

Eventually, the riding program outgrew the sports field location and moved across the road to it’s current home.  This location features 3 riding rings and a jump course as well as several pastures and an inviting trail that follows the French Broad River.  We no longer ride over Caesar’s Head on horseback, but there are plenty of exciting adventures that happen down at the barn!

Oldest Presbyterian Church

The Transylvania County Historical Society has made an interesting find that ties the Rockbrook Camp property to the oldest Presbyterian church in the area. Local historians Keith Parker and Gene Baker now believe the “Mamre congregation” had its “Presbyterian Meeting house below the mouth of Dunn’s Creek” right across from the main entrance to Rockbrook. What’s phenomenal is that this church was in place in 1798. That’s the same year that the U.S. government officially obtained this land from the Cherokee! This means the property that would later become Rockbrook Camp (when Nancy Carrier’s father Henry Peck Clarke purchased it) was a thriving community more than 100 years before the camp was founded. This area, known as the Dunn’s Rock Township, was the third largest in the area when Transylvania County was formed in 1861.

1798 Transylvania County Church near Dunn's Rock

Now take a look at this view of the French Broad River valley from the top of Dunn’s Rock. We’re not sure what year it was made (and whether it’s a colorized photograph or a painting based on a photograph; thanks to Roger Raxter for giving us a copy), but you can clearly see, along the bottom edge, the old “Dunn’s Rock Bridge” crossing the river. Right next to it, you can make out the red roof of what we think is that old Presbyterian meeting house from 1798. It was just south of where the bridge crossed the river.  Like the church, this bridge is no longer there.

Such important history surrounding Rockbrook!