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

This is Our Camp!

“If I know what I shall find, I do not want to find it. Uncertainty is the salt of life.” –Erwin Chargaff

camper girl

Anyone who has been to Rockbrook knows that there is some degree of certainty at camp: there is a regular schedule, there will definitely be muffin break every day at 10:45 (thank goodness!), and there is always something structured to do. Yet days like today, with nothing out of the ordinary planned, remind me that we all thrive at Rockbrook because when we wake up, none of us know exactly what the day will bring, and that makes each moment of each day exciting.

No one knows exactly what a day outside of camp will bring, either, but what I have noticed recently is that Rockbrook fuels this sense of curiosity and energy by creating a camper-driven environment. Because Rockbrook is set up like this, campers feel free to take initiative and take their spontaneous ideas and turn them into real fun.

This has been exemplified all day long at camp. No one batted an eye when a whole cabin of girls arrived to breakfast decked out in costumes from head to toe, but many of them got great compliments for their senses of style! At the end of breakfast, the girls made an announcement that, as a reward for clearing their table without being asked, two girls got to dress the other girls in their cabin. The girls all loved it and enjoyed parading around in their costumes all morning!

While walking around today, I dropped by KIT, which stands for “Keeping in Touch.” In this activity, girls make stationary, calendars, and boxes—anything that helps them write letters or keep special camp memories. KIT takes place in Goodwill, an historical building that is cozy with soft lighting and red curtains. The environment is relaxed and laid back, as the counselors who teach KIT have made sure that each girl is doing a project she wants to do. Conversation flows easily as the girls who have already spent a week at camp get to know those who just arrived. Everyone is engaged in their craft and content with their choice, happy they got to decide for themselves what to focus their energy on.

When I passed by WHOA, our activity on Wilderness Hiking and Outdoor Adventure, I heard something I do not usually hear casually around camp: The Star Spangled Banner being sung around a fire pit. Curious, I joined in the song, and tried to blend in. As the song ended, girls got up to speak, and I realized quickly that this was a memorial service for the miniature rafts the girls had tried to create. A particularly memorable moment of the speech was, “It was the Titanic of rafts, and that’s probably why it sank.” No one would have thought that a sunken raft would be an avenue for the subtle hilarity that ensued afterward. With a healthy dose of flexibility and an emphasis on process instead of outcome, every small activity can become something exciting and unexpected.

paper crafts at summer camp

This notion of camper ownership extends to every part of the day and every place around camp. Eating in the dining hall is always a little unpredictable because no one ever knows what songs will get sung. The Hi-Ups (the oldest Rockbrook campers) get to choose and lead the songs, but any table can request them! My absolute favorite part of meals, though, are announcements. There are many predictable (and important) announcements about adventurous trip offerings, tie-dye pick-ups, and lost and found. What makes Rockbrook different, though, is that campers take initiative and make their own announcements too. We were treated at dinner to two juniors performing a self-written song on their favorite activity: Nature! Set to “The Shark Song,” a familiar camp tune, the girls replaced the verses with “terrariums”, “Rockbrook Falls”, and “cool counselors”. The girls even made the journal in which they wrote the lyrics down! The rest of the camp gushed at how perfect the announcement was, and broke into excited applause. Not only do campers take ownership of camp, the rest of camp enthusiastically celebrates their initiative because everyone appreciates this spontaneity.

Twilight gave us another avenue to explore as a group of girls chose to venture down to the Rockbrook Garden. Every age group was represented, and it was moving to watch the senior girls helping the younger girls get excited as they walked down the hill together. When we arrived at the garden, Chelsea, the friendly and calm Rockbrook gardener, addressed the campers saying, “Girls, welcome to your garden.” The garden is a plot of land by the land sports field. Chelsea works hard to plant a variety of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers. It is incredibly calming and relaxing to be there during this twilight time, when the day’s heat is finally easing up, when the sun is setting, but there is still gold in the sky, when wind chimes are providing us with gentle sounds, and we get to romp around in what feels like a secret garden. There are rows of fruits, vegetables, and herbs that will eventually find their way into the Rockbrook dining hall! Surrounding the vegetables are beautiful flowers—heaps of sunflowers and daisies of every color. It is nothing short of perfection.

Even better, we got to do so much more than look at it. Girls proceeded to pluck strawberries right off the vine and eat them; others tried kale for the very first time. Some created bundles of lavender and verbena to tuck into their pillows at night, while others picked flowers and fashioned bouquets for their new friends. Chelsea also gave the girls some lettuce to plant in the ground, and many also helped water the plants. Regardless of what they did, I saw so much sheer joy in being able to actively engage in a space like the garden. On the way up the hill, I heard a girl comment that she was somewhat hesitant to come to the garden because she thought it would be a structured lesson about plants. She had no idea she would be allowed to pick anything or try anything, and that most requests she had would be answered with “yes,” and a smile.

After the garden, we headed back up the hill for evening program. Most nights, cabins work together to plan a skit. Though counselors are always nearby, we try not to be too involved—it’s a great opportunity for girls to work together and get as creative as we please! As I was watching a skit whose characters were debating the origin of French Fries (France or the United States…in the end, it was actually Belgium!), I was struck by the originality that stems from campers creating so much of the direction of their camp lives. I realized that, at Rockbrook, the phrase I heard at the garden should be applied more broadly. It’s as though every moment of every day is saying, Girls, welcome to your camp.

Camper Dressing up Fun

Spontaneous Fun

Making authentic corn tamales at camp
Dining Hall Wheel

Two things come to mind when considering meals at Rockbrook. First, there is the food. Obviously, eating the fantastic meals Rick and his crew prepare for us is the ostensible reason we gather three times a day in the dining hall. For example, tonight everyone was giddy with excitement because dinner included a special Latin American dish, authentic Tamales. Made with finely ground corn, lime, oil and stock mixed into a paste, then combined with meats, peppers or cheese as fillings, each tamale is hand-stuffed into a corn husk. The kitchen crew shredded the chicken and cheese, made a Guajillo red sauce and a green salsa, spending hours stuffing, folding, and then steaming all of the Tamales. Such a delicious treat!

Beyond a time to eat excellent food, our meals are also events. They are special times when spontaneous fun is bound to happen. A whole cabin might come to lunch dressed for a beach party or ready to perform a song or short skit they invented. Naturally, there’s always a silly song to sing, often with hand motions, clapping or even banging on the table. Occasionally, we’ll have a dance break, where everyone stops eating, jumps up to boogie down to a recent pop song. Today lunch included Chase giving everyone in the dining hall a chance to “Spin the Wheel” of Fun. You can see the wheel in this photo, but it’s basically a clicker that when spun lands randomly on one section (think of the game show “Wheel of Fortune.”). Our wheel has things like “Candy” and “Muffins,” but also “Dress a Director” (devise a crazy costume for a Director to wear at the next meal), “Joy Ride” (ride around with Chase in the golf cart), and “Polar Bear” (jump in the lake early before breakfast). We spin the wheel only occasionally making it very exciting when we do. The whole camp stands up, and then using a series of criteria (for example, though these vary every time: hair in a ponytail, visited Europe, wearing green, have blue eyes, etc.) girls sit down or remain standing until only one person is left. When that lucky person finally spins the wheel, the whole dining hall holds its breath with anticipation and explodes with cheering when we find out the result. Spinning the wheel is a blast for everyone, even when it’s just one person spinning.

Teen Camp Girls at High Falls
Rock Climbing Teen Camp Girl

One of the climbs on Castle Rock, the big outcropping of granite above the dining hall on the Rockbrook property, is called “Dragon Tail.” It’s a short climb (maybe 25 feet), but is quite difficult because it requires a strenuous climbing move called a “layback.” You can see it in this photo. The climber lays back pulling an edge of the rock with her feet out in front of her. Dragontail is even more challenging because it requires you to switch from the layback position to a very small edge at the finish. For our intermediate and advanced climbers, it’s a tough, but exciting route.

The Hi-Ups took an impromptu waterfall hike today in the Dupont State Forest. We hiked about 4 miles altogether and along the way stopped to check out Hooker Falls, Triple Falls, and High Falls (where this photo was taken; click it for a larger version). This part of Dupont Forest has become a very popular tourist destination, so recent improvements have made it easy to view these Falls from a distance and climb down to the base where you can feel the powerful, constant spray created by the falling water. It can be challenging to make your way over the slippery wet rocks— two girls slipped slightly, completely sinking one foot in the water! —but with extra care, we all made it past each obstacle… and now have some fantastic photos to prove it!

Camp Play Practice

At the end of the session, on Wednesday afternoon (8/13), the campers will present a musical based on the movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (which was in tern adapted from the 1964 novel by Roald Dahl). With auditions complete, now the main cast members are rehearsing during the first free swim periods before lunch. This photo shows them meeting in the Hillside Lodge and sitting in a circle while reading through a scene. The story of Willy Wonka has lots of characters (all those Oompa-Loompas!), some that sing, others that also deliver specific lines, and a few supporting roles. The directors have reserved a few of these roles for the mini session girls who will arrive on Sunday, making sure that we will have a full cast for the performance. Members of the tech crew have also started painting scenery, just as the vocal soloists are rehearsing their songs. It’s going to be a great show! If your daughter is one of the performers, our office will contact you so that you can make plans (if possible) to attend the camp’s performance (we nevertheless will also distribute to everyone a video recording of the performance).

Winter Wonderland Camp Party

Two other special events happened today, both of which were spontaneous, optional for everyone, and really fun for the girls who chose to attend. When cool, misty weather arrived during second free swim, the lifeguards announced a “Winter Wonderland Party” instead of swimming. Inside the Hillside Lodge, they built a glorious fire in the fireplace, had hot chocolate to drink, and broke out marshmallows to roast for s’mores. They played winter holiday music, cut snowflakes from colored construction paper, and had a wonderful time together, cozy in the Lodge. After dinner, during the “Twilight” period of free time, Kelly the camp gardener held a “Garden Gathering” down at the flower and vegetable garden. She introduced the girls to the plants growing and let everyone pick a few things. Soon we had a nice basket of carrots, squash, green beans, and a few cucumbers. Several girls also made bouquets of flowers to decorate their cabins back up in camp. It’s marvelous to stand next to a sunflower towering high above you, or to reach into the ground and pull out something you can eat. By the end, the girls were loaded down with produce and a true appreciation of gardening.

Here’s Amelia showing off what she gathered from the garden.

Camp Garden Girl

A Day (Un)Like Any Other

Stephanie Brown here! I am the middler line head and Rockbrook intern doing the blog post for today.

RBC zipline

As we woke up to the sound of the 8 o’clock morning bell, the air was crisp and the day looked promising as the fog cleared from a top Castle Rock.  There were no Rockbrook surprises but it is days like these that girls seem to love the most.  Zip lining was offered throughout all four periods and it filled up fast! Girls love to yell, hold tight, or just let go when they go down the zip line – for some it is one of their favorite experiences at camp.

Others had their daily scheduled 4 activities. A popular choice of activity is yoga. Here girls are able find a nice quiet time to relax from the hustle and bustle of camp. Mary Alice, the yoga instructor and middler cabin counselor, welcomes any experience level. It is held in the peaceful hillside lodge where, as campers practice, they can see a view of the hill, lake, and castle rock.

Though the day had a regular schedule, somehow it was anything but regular. The campers got to choose how they would like to spend their free time. During these days, time almost stands still. We do not know what is happening anywhere except right where we are. Campers have time to really “stop and smell the roses” with a short trip down to the garden. Whether it be in a cabin, outside on the hill, or at the garden a single conversation with a friend makes a friendship you have only had for a week feel like one you have had for years.

yoga at rbc

A highlight of the day was the Dance Break at the lunch. A dance break is a prize that one can win on the Wheel in the dining hall. If you spin it you and your cabin choose a song that will be played during a meal unexpectedly. Everyone, and I mean everyone, gets out of their seat and starts to dance. If you haven’t read this post about the wheel, check it out!  As Taylor Swift’s 22 came on over the speakers someone yelled, “dance break!” It was such an amazing moment to witness as it almost encapsulates camp life here at Rockbrook. Campers, counselors, directors, Taylor Swift fans, and non Taylor Swift fans alike were dancing around the dining hall with nothing holding them back.

It is at the end of these days when we realize nothing is better than this. These little moments that make you smile and feel grateful, because you have been given an opportunity to have a regular day become most extraordinary.

rbc sunflower