Now that Second Session has officially begun, campers have eagerly jumped on all the opportunities for fun and adventure at camp. Every day except Sundays, campers take activities that they can choose themselves. Mondays at camp are always full of new experiences because they are the first day of activity rotations. Today was especially delightful because it is the first day of the fist activity rotation, and it is the second day of the whole session.
Every Sunday and Wednesday night after dinner, campers choose their next round of four activities that they will take for three days. Some campers enjoy taking the same activities every time because they want to continue building their skills, they particularly enjoy being with those activity instructors, or they are just big fans of that activity. On the other hand, some campers choose new activities every rotation in order to try the most they can while at camp, since many of our activities are things that are often not available at home. Either way, campers practice decision-making and independence when they pick activities and challenge themselves to try new things.
For instance, today in Curosty, our weaving activity, campers sat by the creek and learned how to make baskets that they will be able to take home and use.
Meanwhile in Yoga, campers not only practiced different poses and breathing techniques, they also learned about yoga philosophy and history in order to ground their yoga experience and relate it to their lives.
No matter the activity, campers are able to take something away with them when they leave camp. Whether it is a freshly honed skill in knot tying, an experience on horseback they’ve never had before, or a new friend they made in needlecraft, each camper heads home with more than they arrived with. The combination of immersion in nature, working with activity specialists, and daily opportunities to build both skills and relationships make activities at Rockbrook a unique learning experience.
“Magical” is one of the best ways to describe camp. You hear it a lot, in fact, when campers and counselors try to convey what makes their camp time extraordinary, what’s so special about camp activities, and why their camp friends are so close. “Magical” applies because camp is essentially a different world, one filled with daily surprises, wonderful discoveries, remarkable flashes of natural beauty, amazing people, exhilaration and often the deepest feelings of happiness —all rare qualities of the mundane world left behind. Everything at camp seems to have this extra quality, this power or spirit of sorts, that makes it uniquely Rockbrook. For this reason, a pumpkin chocolate chip muffin at camp will always be better than one eaten somewhere else, camp sunsets more beautiful, wearing a costume more hilarious, and feelings of belonging more genuine.
And like all things magical, camp is hard to explain. It simply stands out in very real, but ineffable ways. During the last Spirit Fire, counselor Bella Swaak spoke about her experience at Rockbrook, doing her best to relate its magical quality. Here’s an excerpt of what she said:
“Rockbrook has a special magical quality about it. Not only can you be who you want to, but you are able to grow and that magic is what brought me back to camp. Though the magic of Rockbrook is hard to describe— almost as hard as describing why a camp friend is much different than a friend from home. I like to use Sarah’s analogy of a chocolate chip cookie friend. A chocolate chip cookie friend is someone who makes you feel warm and gooey inside. They make you feel special, just like a chocolate chip cookie does. Throughout this summer, you have all become my chocolate chip cookie friends. You make me feel warm and gooey and good inside, you make me laugh until I cry, you push me to step out of my comfort zone, and you accept me for being me. You guys are the ones who I turn to in times of happiness or sadness. I come to y’all and camp as a reminder of all that is good in the world.
Rockbrook magic is also about relationships and as Wendy said, “relationships are the key to life.” Here is where my friendships have turned into sisterhood. You are the ones who I will think of when I feel like everything is wrong and you are the ones who help me see the bright in everything and my wish for campers is that you all find your own chocolate chip cookie friends, to find the ones who let you be who you want to be and support your wildest dreams, just like mine did.
Looking back at my camper years, I see how much this place has made me grow. Not only am I now able to catch a spricket or two, but the women around me have turned me into a strong independent woman. I had amazing counselors and directors to look up to, even now, as a counselor, I can say the same.
One of my favorite memories from this summer is the day that Theresa and I finished our Mermaid laps. As we walked out of the lake, we stopped by the rock and looked back onto the lake. Girls were swimming and paddling, and the counselors were cheering on everyone and the sun was shining perfectly onto the lake. As we were standing there, admiring the view, I turned to her and told her to take a mental picture, and that’s what I challenge y’all to do. Stop and enjoy the moment. Don’t rush through your years as a camper hoping to be a CA, HUP, or a Counselor. Don’t be counting down the days until banquet. Stop and acknowledge the small things because it’s easy to forget as a camper.
Though a lot of things might change about you since your first year, Rockbrook won’t. It will always be a place where girls come to play, learn, and grow. Rockbrook allows you to be who you want and it is one of the best qualities of the RBC magic.
And now as I make my journey back to the city, I will remember all I have learned from this summer. The Juniors have taught me to sing my heart out, even if the song is as silly as Copacabana, the Middlers taught me every day to not take my self as seriously and wear a silly costume here and there, and the seniors will always remind me that it is okay to be your weird, complete self.
Enjoy your last night with your friends. Tell them if they are your chocolate chip cookie friend and let them know you appreciate them because I am so unbelievably thankful to have all of you in my life. Thanks for being my chocolate chip cookie friends.
Every Sunday, we attend chapel, which is not religious, but is more a conversation about a theme that relates to camp. This week, the camp mom Marie Brown wrote an incredible piece about community that was read aloud at chapel. It really captured the spirit of community at camp. Here it is:
We live in a country, that loves to celebrate the individual. Its fun to idealize the greatness of the one. The wonder of their singular feats to seduces us. It’s exciting to see a human be remarkable. Serena Williams and her consistent prowess as a tennis giant is already amazing, and seeing her coming back to make it to the Wimbledon finals after a 13 month maternity leave…that is worthy of our attention. Simone Biles developing a gymnastics skill that no one had ever competed before and few fellow Olympic gymnasts can even do. Of course she won a gold metal for that. Of course that’s incredible. In pop culture, we pay attention to the newest star, and the biggest star, we listen to the news on Justin Bieber or Beyoncé because they have talent, and fame and fortune enough to make them seriously stand above the crowd. There is something authentically compelling about these individuals and their successes that earns them the attention.
But the trouble is, it is easy to forget that not a single one of those winners, stars, or firsts got their on their own. And its easy to overlook that the amount of attention we love to give them is actually really hard for them to tolerate. Humans didn’t evolve to be the soaring eagle, rising and flying alone in the glaring sun of that much attention. It takes even more strength in some ways to live a healthy full life when you are watched that closely. But we ignore that. We love the symbolism of the bald eagle all alone. But in our poetic use of that image as our ideal, we really fail to tell the whole story. We are pack animals. And like Wendy shared with us last week, we need touch, and hugs. We can not survive without them. And when we paint the picture as if we can, we not only set ourselves up for intense disappointment, we also fail to acknowledge that for every individual phenomenal success we adore, there is a whole network of phenomenal successes making up the community that played a part in growing these stars into the stunning athletes, or artists, or astronauts they become. In our hunger to put the Neil Armstrong’s on a pedestal for being the first human to walk on the moon, we often fail to honor the teams of exceptionally brilliant, hardworking men…and women, who’s stunning demonstration of collaboration and idea sharing, knowledge and innovation, mentorship and support, care-giving and service it took to make that kind of impossible dream a reality.
And so in our own lives and dreams, it is easy to feel like we must strive to be the One in order to be valued. And while that is wonderful to aspire to, it is good to remember to recognize even those idealized heroes are members of a community. The most astonishing of whom take their place in the spot-light to look back on their communities and give back, to lift up others, to serve one another, to collaborate and create more than any one alone could ever devise, to listen and empathize, to laugh, and to hug. My heroes are those who have the will to give, and the grace to receive love from a community that they both support and are supported by.
That is what is so refreshing about being here at Rockbrook. Lets take a moment to stop and recognize that we all are so privileged to share a brief time together in this magical place on the planet where being a part of the community is so easy. Where being a good community member is encouraged and celebrated. Where it is an honor to be given a task to give back to the group, or tasked with sometimes even really hard work. For example, the CA’s, High-Up, CIT, and counselors. I remember being a young camper how much we wanted nothing more than to get to be all of these respected roles. When what do they do? They work exceptionally hard to take care of their community. These are our Rockbrook heroes.
So when I say it is so easy to be part of a community here it doesn’t mean it is always easy here. Do not let me take away the sense of real struggle we all can feel at times when we are trying to be our best here. But do remember that the habits of community spirit we practice here at Rockbrook are so much easier to build where we all live, eat, and play together, where we struggle up the mountainside together, and stifle our cries of fear together at the sight of a skunk, or tolerate cold showers after a long line, and laugh, and laugh, and laugh together. Here we are interconnected on everything. So being a part of a community is a natural state.
But that is not often true in our worlds back home where all the screens, and cars, and modern conveniences distract and diminish our natural skills to interconnect as living, breathing human beings. So take this time here to build the muscles of your community spirit–your Rockbrook spirit–so you can feel them and find them when you are a Rockbrook girl alone out the “real” world. So you can demonstrate them to the rest of the world, and can always remember that striving to be your best includes being a community hero who gives as much as she receives, and (perhaps can still feel the faint memory of a string of well-earned Bend-a-Back Spirit beads proudly displayed around her neck.)
When people think of summer camp, odds are good they picture kids canoeing, climbing a ropes course, riding horses, making tie-dye T-shirts, and hiking through the woods. That certainly is a big part of how we spend our days here at Rockbrook, but even in the midst of all of those fun activities, a main focus is our relationships with each other. In everything we do we are looking for ways to build connections, strengthen communication, and model positive conflict resolution. Whether we are reminding kids to walk instead of run at the lake or helping a first time camper find her place at camp, our goal is to have each camper feel they are a valued part of the Rockbrook community.
Living in community doesn’t always come easy. It can be tricky to learn to share close quarters with people you haven’t lived with before, but the good thing about camp is that we get lots of time to practice. Our counselors strive not only to provide close one-on-one interaction with every camper, but also to help campers learn their role in a group as well. Everything from morning chores in the cabin to planning camp-wide events teaches campers how to express their feelings, ask for what they need, resolve conflicts, and share ideas.
Cabin groups work together to prep their living space for cabin inspection every morning. Each camper has a cleaning job in the cabin, but each girl is also responsible for keeping her own belongings tidy as well. This early morning exercise in teamwork helps girls delegate and ask for help, important skills both at camp and in their out-of-camp lives. Counselors can help them navigate disagreements in this time, reminding them to keep their voices calm and convey their feelings clearly. Campers might think they are just tidying up their cabin, but our staff is watching for any opportunity to help girls communicate better and support each other fully.
Cabin day is another time where group dynamics are the star of the show. A cabin group may have to work together to build a fire in order to enjoy a special campfire treat. They’ll have to talk together about the process, discuss supplies needed, assign different roles to each member of the group, and work together to get to that sweet result. There’s nothing quite like the victory of a cobbler that you’ve cooked together over an outdoor fire.
Because of our investment in relationship building and teamwork as the core part of camp life, we see ripples of these practices all around camp. Everyday, the quality of our relationships, the growing care and understanding we have for each other, makes a difference. When a camper is hesitant at the top of the water slide, you can be sure her cabin mates will be there cheering her on from the lake below. Divvying up supper clean up chores becomes smoother every day as girls take turns delegating and sharing jobs. And on the river in a whitewater raft, those communication skills really pay off as girls work together to ride the rapids.
So when you think of camp and all those fun activities come to mind, know that the work is much more than finding rhythm on a horse, weaving a basket, and or molding something beautiful out of clay. We’re also finding our rhythm as a group, weaving a beautiful community, and molding each camper into a caring, strong communicator. And having lots of fun while we do it!
We often struggle to convey just how active and engaged the campers are during an ordinary day at Rockbrook. We can list activities and do fairly well capturing things in photographs for the online gallery, but nothing beats a video. Take a look at this third video (1:48) highlighting the session. Robbie shot it last Saturday, and like the previous two, it’s a fascinating peek into the lives of your girls at camp.
P.S. If you missed the two earlier videos of Second Session, they are here and here. 🙂
Here’s another glimpse into life at camp these days from videographer Robbie Frances. Once again he’s done a great job capturing simple moments around camp, some of the action, and many of the heartwarming smiles we’re seeing everywhere.
It’s not quite 2 minutes long, but has such a nice feel, it deserves to be watched more than once.
The other day I heard a snippet of conversation between two campers talking about their friends. One girl explained, “I have friends at school, but my friends here at Rockbrook are my ‘forever friends.'” What a great way to put it! Friends made at camp are exactly that— so strong, so close, so meaningful, they last. It’s pretty clear. The people here at Rockbrook aren’t just companions or playmates; they’re not simply other girls assigned to your team, or brief acquaintances that happen to eat meals with you in the dining hall. Instead there’s a deepness to many of the friendships formed at camp, an emotional quality that makes relationships here more genuine and powerful.
Why camp friends are forever friends is an interesting question. What is it about summer camp that makes a difference when is comes to forming friendships? My first thought is that we make good friends at camp by virtue of spending so much time together. When you share all your meals, spend all your free time, and do so much together with the same small group of people, you are bound to grow closer. Consistent shared experience simply brings people together. And this togetherness of camp is almost inescapable considering the sleeping cabins holding 10 or more people (no private rooms here!), the lack of electronic devices (which are inherently isolating), and the collaborative character of all our camp activities. There can be moments of solitude for everyone at camp, but generally time at camp is a collective life that keeps us inter-acting with each other throughout the day. This makes good sense, by the way, if having fun is one of the goals of camp. After all, doing something with others is clearly more fun than doing it alone, whether it’s putting on a silly costume, paddling a whitewater raft, or eating a meal.
While this is a start, I suspect there’s more to understanding what drives camp friendships than simply being together and sharing core experiences. Perhaps more importantly, camp life also includes a set of ideals and values, a culture, that guides how we treat each other as a community doing things together. At Rockbrook, this camp culture starts with kindness and generosity. It respects and values everyone, creating enthusiasm and building genuine encouragement. Beginning with the directors, embodied by the staff members, and sustained by Rockbrook’s many traditions, there is a feeling here of warmth and acceptance where every girl is appreciated and supported. This culture makes it easy to cooperate instead of compete, to pitch in rather than check out, and to inspire more than criticize. The Rockbrook camp culture, quite intentionally, brings out these best qualities in people, campers and staff alike, making it a special place oddly different from what’s typically valued in other circles.
This, then, is the secret sauce. The nature of this culture, all of its practiced ideals, provides girls the freedom to explore who they really are, to develop the character and spirit of their “authentic selves.” In this way, camp empowers girls to trust themselves. Free of social judgment, camp life helps awaken confidence, giving girls the power to overcome their own assumptions about who they should be. I believe stripping away these assumptions and being genuine is what makes forever friendships possible. It feels good (“What a relief!”) to be true to yourself too, to be welcomed and nurtured by a real community. No posing needed. Instead, as camp teaches us to be brave personally, it establishes the basis for the most rewarding form of friendship.
So while we’re doing so much together at camp— riding, climbing, weaving, shooting, and playing, for example —we’re discovering that our true selves make the best friends, that being kind makes us happy, and being together like this is always more fun.
“Rockbrook Girl” is a title that we throw around all the time here at camp. We call campers Rockbrook Girls when they help to clean up messes that they didn’t help to create, are friendly to a new camper, or come bounding in on Opening Day with a grin from ear to ear and a fervent (and usually vocal) wish for their parents just to be gone already, so camp can start. We even have a song (“Hooray for [blank], She’s a Rockbrook Girl”), which ascribes that title to anyone at camp that we want to celebrate.
What is a Rockbrook Girl? Well—the lazy answer is that you just sort of know her when you see her. This is the answer that I nearly always lean on, since every time I put on my analytical hat and try to sum up the essence of a true Rockbrook Girl into a single, ironclad list of qualities, I run into this roadblock: there is such a wide array of thoroughly different Rockbrook Girls that there is an exception to nearly every trait I deem necessary.
Are Rockbrook girls talkative? Sure, plenty of them are. But what about the two that I saw yesterday, sitting on the Hill, not saying a word to one another, one sketching, the other reading? They looked incredibly happy to be there, and walked off when the bell rang for Evening Program with huge smiles on their faces. So what if they hadn’t said two words to each other through the whole of Twilight? They had enjoyed that hour with one another just as much as the most talkative girls in camp had.
Are Rockbrook girls outdoorsy? Sometimes they are. There are girls who go out on every paddling, rock climbing, and hiking trip that we offer. They want to learn every camping skill that we can teach them, and would happily eschew the allures of air conditioning for the rest of their lives. But what about the ones who like to stay in their cabins with their friends, making friendship bracelets or playing cards? They are no less Rockbrook Girls than the first sort.
You see the challenge. Yet still, I think I have come up with five qualities that sum up Rockbrook Girls, that still manage to allow for the myriad personalities that fit into that category. Some girls show up on their first day of camp, fully equipped with every one of these qualities, ready to take camp by storm. Some gain a little bit more of each of them each year that they come to camp, as Rockbrook helps to shape them into the adults that they will become.
1. Friendliness Whether they are talkative or quiet, shy or outgoing, Rockbrook Girls are always friendly to one another. There’s no room here at camp for the cliques and exclusion that you can find at schools, and Rockbrook Girls tend to get that right away. In fact, it’s one of the qualities of camp that they relish most. Rockbrook girls view every person that they see as a potential friend, and will go out of their way to treat those people with kindness and respect.
2. Laughter Rockbrook girls laugh. They laugh when something is funny, of course, but they also laugh at themselves, when they do something silly or make a mistake. Sometimes they just laugh to fill the silences, to make sure that no one is getting too bored. Most importantly, though, they laugh when things don’t go right. They push through frustration and embarrassment, and find the humor in every situation, knowing that as long as they can laugh at it, no challenge is too difficult to tackle. Just the other day, during swim demos, I saw one of our youngest campers jump into the lake, and immediately ask the life guards to help her out. She climbed out of the lake and over to me with a grin on her face. She shrugged, and said “Well, that didn’t go so well!” I reassured her that the cold water can be a shock the first time you jump in, and that there’s nothing wrong with not quite getting it the first time. She laughed out loud, and said, “I’m not worried! I’ll just go again tomorrow.” And she marched off to join her new friends. That, right there, was a Rockbrook Girl.
3. Daring Every girl here has at least enough daring to leave the familiarity of home, and come to a place as crazy as this for a few weeks. That is impressive enough already. But, while they’re here, this trait can manifest itself in manifold ways. Maybe they go on every trip that we offer without looking back. Maybe they have to stand at the edge of the rock that starts the zip line for ten minutes before stepping off into thin air. Maybe they audition for the play on day one. Maybe they dread the Evening Program skits every night, but join in resolutely anyway, taking on a bigger and bigger role each time. Regardless of the form of their daring—whether effortless, or a quieter, more determined sort of courage—Rockbrook Girls always possess a bit of it.
4. Helpfulness Every girl at camp has jobs to do. Whether they have to take out the cabin trash in the morning, clear the tables after a meal, or keep their area in the cabin neat for the sake of their cabin-mates, they are great about remembering their responsibility to help keep camp clean. True Rockbrook Girls, though, tend to go the extra mile. They offer to help a new camper find their way to their activities, they stay behind after craft activities to help clean up the supplies, they walk their friends to the deducky if they have to go in the middle of the night, they lend out their flashlights and costumes and stationery, they sit and listen and offer a shoulder to cry on whenever a friend is upset… there are countless ways that they find to help. This comes, I think, from being very aware that they are a key part of this community. They feel acutely the responsibility that comes along with that, and want to help in any way they can to make our community strong.
5. Confidence to be who they are This is a hard one. We all feel that urge to change bits of ourselves to fit in and be a part of the cool crowd. Rarely (though it does happen) do girls come into their first year of camp feeling entirely comfortable with who they are, quirks and all. But as they come back, year after year, something begins to change. They find it a little easier to be friendly to new or “uncool” girls. They find it a little easier to laugh when things get tough. They find it a little easier to call on that sense of daring when needed. They find it a little easier to lend a helping hand, even when it might inconvenience them. And, most importantly, after years of being surrounded by friendly, happy, daring, and helpful friends who love and support them in everything they do, Rockbrook girls find it a little easier to show the world their true selves, without apology.