Sometimes you have to get a little messy to feel this good. Like tonight after dinner when we had a shaving cream fight down on the landsports field. Chase announced the optional event in the dining hall, and from the cheering it was clear we would have plenty of girls ready to romp about with the slippery white foam.
The point of a shaving cream fight is simple— spray the contents of your can both on others and on yourself. Then run around smearing, wiping and rubbing the shaving cream into everyone’s hair, on their backs, and ultimately everywhere. Beyond that, the goal is to have fun, be silly and enjoy the mess of it all. It’s as simple as that.
There are no teams, and this is not a competition where we pick a winner at the end like some games. So it’s not much of a “fight” really. It’s more cooperative since it’s just as much fun to be attacked as it is to splatter others. Part of the fun is surprising someone, sneaking up to them and planting a blob right on their back, shoulder or leg… as you race away grinning, and secretly hoping, but also looking out for, someone who will do the same to you. No score: just the fun of playing the game.
And it’s absolutely hilarious! Once the spraying begins, you can’t hear anything except shrieks of delight and laughter. We all (yes, counselors and directors too!) quickly begin to look pretty funny, our hair sticking up, with white beards and mustaches, if not completely foamy.
A shaving cream fight feels liberating too. It’s a little mischievous and outrageous, but still sanctioned, even celebrated at camp. It’s a harmless way to go a little crazy, while at the same time laugh and play with your friends.
What to learn from a shaving cream fight? I’m not sure, but I’d say it’s a wonderful way to experience uninhibited joy, a deep feeling that in our ordinary lives too often struggles to find expression. At camp though, it’s pretty easy; we find it everyday.
Arriving at camp, as our 2nd July mini session campers did today, is exciting for everyone. For the full session girls already here and half way through their long session, the arrival of new friends, many of whom we already know, is invigorating because it means camp will again kick up a notch with new conversations and new people to play with. For the girls arriving, the anticipation of camp starting —all that pent up enthusiasm and energy— can finally be released. For everyone, today was a chance to reunite with old camp friends… and we saw plenty of full-on hugs to prove that! …or to meet new people that surely will become friends before long. The whole morning was a festival of smiles as the arriving mini session campers smoothly checked in, met their counselors and got settled in the cabins.
Right away, the arriving girls got busy with hikes to Rockbrook Falls, which is one of the larger waterfalls on the camp property. They gathered on the tennis courts to hit a few balls and play a “speed game.” Some, as another option, chose to stop by the gym to play gaga ball or basketball, while others made their first lanyard or friendship bracelet on the hillside lodge porch. I could tell the girls appreciated getting started with a camp activity in the first few minutes they arrived.
Rick’s homemade pizza, along with more salad than we could eat, made our first meal delicious and familiar at the same time. Tours of camp during rest hour, and trips to the lake for swimming demonstrations, plus cabin meetings (a chance to get to know each other, rearrange trunks and other personal items, and learn important camp rules) came next. It being a hot sunny afternoon, roaming around the camp and finally stopping at the lake for a quick swim felt really good.
What better way to open the camp session, though, than with an afternoon carnival? When the bell rang about 3pm, Chase our program director, with the help of almost 20 other staff members, pulled out all the stops for this amazing all-camp event on the grassy hill in the center of camp. Like all great parties, this event combined fun dance music, several options for snacks, group games, challenge games, and in this case, about 200 excited girls to enjoy everything with.
There were two huge inflatables to try: a 35-foot water slide called the “Wild Rapid,” and an obstacle course that allowed two girls at a time to climb, crawl and scramble through. There was a cake walk organized for girls to earn small cupcakes. One area had girls playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey and choosing rubber ducks from a pond, while another allowed girls to “fish” (using a stick with a string and magnet attached) for prizes. Two Hi-Ups enjoyed running a pie throwing station, two more, a beanbag “dunk booth,” and two others a challenge that involved eating an apple or doughnut hung by a string. We had face painting, yard checkers, a ring toss game, a giant bubble station, and a game of “Messy Twister” (messy from shaving cream and a little body paint) also going on. Pumping across the hill was music by DJ Dawg, who was also teaching dance moves to groups of girls. Snow cones and popcorn kept us snacking too. Plus we had fun busting open several piñatas and scrambling for the pieces of candy that came spilling out.
With so many options available, you could stand on the hill and see happy groups of girls in all directions, each smiling and laughing as they got a little wet, maybe a little messy, and had a blast zipping from area to area. One small Junior camper ran by me, snow cone in hand, shouting, “This is the best day ever!”
Later in the afternoon, some girls chose to take a dip in the lake, while others took a shower before dinner, capping off a fantastic opening day. We’ll start right in with camp activities in the mornings, and soon the first whitewater rafting trip will be going out.
We’ve only just gotten started, and there’s so much to look forward to!
At breakfast this morning we announced a special activity the girls could select today: attending a wood turning workshop presented by local artist George Peterson. George is married to an Alumna of Rockbrook and has two daughters who attend camp. He is known nationally for working with wood, shaping, etching, carving, burning and finishing it into amazing functional and decorative pieces. He just returned from showing his work in Japan, and has worked with galleries in New York, San Francisco and Atlanta as well. One of his bowls was recently chosen for the oval office! His Web site, The Circle Factory, shows some of his latest work. Check out what he’s done with old skateboards.
George started by demonstrating how a wood lathe can spin a block of wood, and allow his sharp chisel to cut away curly shavings, slowly revealing a uniform shape. It was a little loud, but so fascinating to watch a bowl materialize from the block with each chip of wood removed. After forming the interior of the bowl, George demonstrated using an electric carving tool how to shape the exterior and bottom. This wasn’t just a demonstration though. George was ready for each girl to have her own bowl to work on. He had the interiors started, and with George guiding the tools, the girls carved and sanded their bowls, readying them for the final two touches: burning the letters “RBC” using a metal brand, and adding a coat of mineral oil to protect the wood and give it a pleasing shine. Throughout the day, in a total of 4 workshops, campers were carving and sanding very cool wooden bowls, now keepsakes of their session at Rockbrook.
The Rockbrook lake already has floats, beach balls, kickboards, noodles, tubes, and other assorted floating balls and toys, but today the lifeguards added a few other items “just for fun,” as they put it. For the morning periods, it was an arsenal of water pistols, and water shooting devices. The junior campers in particular had fun spraying each other, easily refilling their weapons with water from the lake. In the afternoon, suddenly there was a watermelon to play with. Some of the older girls took turns swimming with it, tossing it from the diving board, and watching it— after a very excellent splash —slowly resurface. After each toss and loud kerplunk, the girls would laugh and laugh, ready to pass the watermelon back up for another throw. Simple stuff, I know, but you would love it too!
Tonight was an event that many of the girls, especially the older campers, look forward to all session, and that has become a camp tradition over the years: a dance with Camp Carolina. We probably fired continuously all of our tankless water heaters this afternoon, and the very few mirrors in camp attracted a constant crowd, as the girls prepared for the night, pulling out a special outfit or maybe dressing in a silly costume. Once again we split the two camps and held two dances, our Juniors and Middlers staying at the Rockbrook gym with the younger boys and our Seniors and Hi-Ups dancing in the CCB dining hall with their older boys. At Rockbrook, our friend Marcus (aka, DJ Dawg) played all the music, doing a great job selecting songs the girls know, as well as songs with popular dance moves like “Watch Me.” At both dances we outnumbered the boys about 2:1 making the night, for the girls at least, more about dancing with their friends than with the boys. Sweaty and tired from jumping and dancing around for an hour and a half, the older girls were very excited and chatty on the ride back to Rockbrook. Happy and tired: that’s another good camp day.
During the two “Free Swim” periods of each day, 45 minutes before both lunch and dinner, it’s common to see a good number of girls swimming laps at the lake. Some using kick boards and others varying their strokes, girls are clocking laps back and forth. And they are keeping count of exactly how many they finish, because if they reach 200 (150 for Middlers, and 100 for Juniors) they join the “Mermaid Club.” You can imagine completing that many laps is no one-day affair; it takes dedication and multiple trips to the lake. When a camper joins the Mermaid Club, Chrissy, our Waterfront Director, will read out your name in the dining hall during the announcements after a meal, and then the whole camp sings the “Mermaid Song” inserting the camper’s name in the final line. Chrissy wrote the song, and here are the words.
The Mermaid Song
Way down at Rockbrook in the chilly lake,
There were some girls a-swimming,
Who started to shiver and shake.
We saw some scales a-glinting,
And tails they did sprout!
Lo and behold a mermaid and the whole camp did shout
“Oh Mermaid, Mermaid, What’s your name?
! [name]! You’re a mermaid!”
More of a chant than a song, it’s an honor to be recognized by everyone in this way. In addition to the recognition, some girls are (at least partially!) motivated by another perk awarded members of the Mermaid Club each session: a trip to Dolly’s Dairy Bar. For girls who simply love the waterfront, the water slide “Big Samantha,” the diving board, or just floating around on a tube in the sun, this is a concrete way to show it. Here’s a short video to give you a better sense of it all. I wonder if your girls are striving to join the Mermaid Club… (Hint. Hint. You could write them and ask!)
For those who prefer more land-based activities to fill their free time, the gym is one place to go because there’s bound to be a basketball or dodgeball game in the works. Right outside the gym, the GaGa pit is a great option. The tennis courts are also available to practice your serve or just to hit a few ball with a friend. A group of “Rockbrook Runners,” which includes walkers, leaves for a loop around the camp during the first Free Swim of the day. Like the Mermaid Club, the Rockbrook Runners have a club based on how many loops/laps are completed by the girls. It’s the “Marathon Club,” and as you might guess, the runners aim to finish 26 miles while they are here for the full session (though less if at camp for fewer weeks). And yes, the same extra sweet, creamy reward awaits those who run the required amount. Running for ice cream… I suppose that makes sense in some way or another.
The tankless hot water heaters were humming constantly this afternoon after we announced at lunch that tonight we would travel over to Camp High Rocks for a square dance with their boys. After braiding a lot of clear hair, dressing in whatever combination of flannel, jeans and bandannas we could gather, our entire camp made the short journey up the mountain (10 bus/van loads plus a couple of cars for extra counselors!). When we arrived, the boys were waiting for us out on their tennis courts and the bluegrass music was already playing from a set of speakers on the small hill nearby. Some of the girls seemed a little nervous about not knowing how to square dance, but the High Rocks boys, and their counselors, were friendly and relaxed about the whole event and helped the girls learn different moves. Once we got going that uncertainty passed and soon everyone was smiling and laughing with every turn and do-si-do.
After about an hour of dancing, we took a short break to mingle and recharge with some homemade oatmeal raisin cookies and lemonade. A little more dancing and we were back down the mountain discussing what made tonight’s square dance (for some, surprisingly) so fun. Maybe it was the outdoor setting with beautiful evening sunlight, or the lighthearted friendly atmosphere, or the opportunities to talk with each other, or the gentlemanly behavior of the High Rocks boys, or the genre of the music (… Well, for the girls, maybe not that.). Whatever the reason, we were all sure it was a terrific evening.
“Welcome back to camp!” and “Welcome to Rockbrook!” were the phrases of the day as we opened our main session of camp today and a record setting 227 campers arrived (a bit above capacity because our 16-year-olds make a huge group this session). Beyond the phrase, the feeling of the day was jittery excitement as campers arrived and were greeted by Sarah, the other directors and their cabin counselors. Everyone was fired up and ready to get started. All this positive energy buoyed most everyone’s spirits as the line to check in moved entirely too slowly. Interestingly, also today, we had only about 8 girls flying into the airport, as opposed to what’s ordinarily 30 or so. I suppose air travel is becoming more burdensome for everyone! The whole morning had staff members hustling to help campers settle into their bunks while campers took short hikes, made bracelets, decorated name tags, and played their first game of ga-ga. We had a picnic lunch on the hill, and cabin meetings all before beginning the many tours of camp and the activity areas. With this much excitement bubbling up around here, the whole morning was a lot of fun.
Before we allow anyone to use the Rockbrook lake (or participate in any of the “water trips” like whitewater rafting or kayaking), we want to make sure, for obvious safety reasons and as part of our American Camp Association accreditation, they can swim well and be comfortable in the water. For this reason, we asked everyone to demonstrate their swimming ability this afternoon by jumping in the lake, swimming out 50 feet, back another 50 feet using a back stroke, and treading water for 1 full minute. Our lake is fed directly by a mountain stream, so it is notoriously “refreshing,” or “shockingly cold,” as one camper put it. Fortunately, it was hot and sunny during the demonstrations today, and the waterfront staff saw very few girls struggle to complete the test. Everyone who passes receives both a swim tag labeled with their name and a bright green bracelet that serves as a way for the lifeguards to identify who is eligible to swim in the deep area of the lake. Girls who need to retake the swim test receive a different colored swim tag and can still enjoy the lake, but we require that they wear a life vest and stay in the shallow area. When the lifeguards call for a “Tag Check,” the girls in the deep area (who should have bracelets) hold up their arms, and it quickly becomes clear how many swimmers are in each area of the lake and that the total number matches the arrangement of tags on the tag board. It’s an elaborate system, but it is an essential and effective safety check for our waterfront.
Before the girls sign up for activities, which as you know is something done twice per week here at Rockbrook rather than in advance at home, it’s helpful for them to learn more about what each option entails. Likewise, it’s fun to see which counselors and staff members will be the instructors for each of the 28 different offerings. With these two goals in mind, we spent time late this afternoon assembled in the gym as the activity instructors performed short skits to introduce what they have planned for this session. Like all good Rockbrook skits, these were a little silly, involved costumes, props, a little dancing, but also singing. Some of the skits, for example those by the climbing and paddling staff, included plenty of cool looking equipment… Ropes, paddles, helmets, and so forth. Many of the crafts areas presented finished examples of their upcoming projects… weaving, jewelry, and a “bunny pillow,” for example. The five ceramics instructors, dressed simply as different “pots” sang a song set to the tune “Be Our Guest” from the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast. “We can coil, we can pinch, after all miss this is camp! Make a handle, take a spot, and you’ll surely make a pot. Make a pot, make a pot, make a pot.” After each skit, it was all cheers for the animated enthusiasm demonstrated by the staff, and plenty of chatter among the girls about which activities they would be trying first.
We’re off to a great start, with all the girls settling down… jitters subsiding… getting to know one and other, and now even more excited for tomorrow’s first day of regular activities. Seeing that energy, I can already tell we’ve got all the ingredients for a great camp session. Stay tuned!
Ordinarily at camp the wake up bell rings at 8am giving the girls time to dress and do a few cabin chores before the breakfast bell at 8:30am. Today though, we surprised everyone with a special pancake breakfast held in each Line’s stone lodge. The kitchen gave us a head start by making a few hundred pancakes, but then teams of counselors, armed with griddles and huge bowls of batter, poured and flipped hot pancakes starting around 8. When the breakfast bell rang, the girls went to their lodges and found sausage and pancakes, milk and juice, but also a pancake toppings station loaded with all kinds of yummy sweet syrups, chocolate chips, marshmallow spread, butter, blueberries and cut strawberries. The girls spilled out into the sunshine around the lodges, sat in their crazy creek chairs, or lined up in the red porch rockers chatting while they watched the fog lift from the mountains in the distance. It was a lovely morning, and a big hit with the campers.
Lunch today turned toward the deep south with Rick and his team in the kitchen frying up sliced green tomatoes for everyone to make sandwiches. With a dab of his homemade rémoulade sauce, or a slice of cheese for the truly bold, this made a delicious sandwich. As a side, Rick prepared several pans of summer squash casserole made with a perfect balance of breadcrumbs, fried onions, cheddar cheese and butter. Cut cantaloupe, strawberries and grapes balanced out the table. Of course, the super-stocked salad bars saw plenty of action too, as did the peanut butter and jelly station.
When it’s your birthday at camp, as it was for Frances today, it’s a big deal. Before breakfast begins, the counselors will secretly decorate your cabin’s table with a colorful painted banner— Happy Brithday Frances! —to surprise everyone about your special day. Then at lunch, we interrupt the meal to carry out one of Katie’s (Rockbrook’s fabulous baker) delicious cakes, highly decorated for the occasion and lit with candles. The whole camp, which is close to 280 people, then sings a big boisterous version of “Happy Birthday” followed by chanting “Tell us when to stop!” Clapping in unison, one clap for each year old, everyone counts out until the birthday girl waves us off at the right number. Also, for birthdays we happily make an exception to our “No Packages” policy, making it even more exciting to receive a few presents from home. Sharing your birthday (and your cake!) with so many friends, is really a special experience.
This afternoon, as is the case most Wednesdays, we paused our regularly scheduled individual activity periods and enjoyed special all-cabin and whole-line trips. It’s our “Cabin Day” (Have you seen this glossary of camp terms?) Some cabins were having “Paint and Polish Parties” where fingers and toes gained fresh color. Others had letter writing projects, cabin name plaques to paint, or had plans to hike the steep climb up to Castle Rock. The Juniors had a silly costume fashion show in the Hillside Lodge. The photos of that event are hilarious!
Late in the afternoon, all the Middlers and their counselors took a ride into the Forest for a picnic, a few chilly rides down sliding rock, and a frozen ice cream treat at Dolly’s. The girls had a great time playing groups games in the grassy field after our dinner of hotdogs, chips and fruit. The “I’m a Rockbrook Girl” game seemed to be the most popular as it got everyone dashing across the huge circle a group this size (about 85) required. Our timing at sliding rock was again ideal because we found the place deserted, leaving us free to slide as much as we wanted. The water is cold enough, and by now it was late enough, that most girls slid 2 or 3 times, even as a handful braved the plunge 8 times. Good fun. And an extra large scoop of Dolly’s ice cream made the evening complete. A little chilled, but happy and excited to sing on the bus, we made our way back to camp in the dark and called it “another wonderful day” at camp.
At 8:00 this morning, as is usual, the girls were awoken to the clear tones of the iron bell ringing throughout the camp, but also today to the tapping of rain on every roof. It was one of those rare mornings when raincoats came out for breakfast, when the temperature is cooler, and droplets of mud seem to spring up on most things at camp. On a day like this, some girls resist the weather and gear up completely with waterproof hats, jackets, boots and umbrellas, while others just embrace it, stomping around in flip flops, wet hair and soggy clothes.
Either way, there’s something important going on; the girls are showing their resilience, their ability to carry on despite the rain. Even with the minor discomfort and reshuffling of plans a rainy day presents, the girls coped just fine, confidently and without a parent determining every step. Life often includes moments like this when unexpected misfortune rears its head, so learning to be resilient, to land on your feet ultimately, is a crucial skill, and it’s something that camp is perfectly suited to teach. Here’s an article discussing how Rockbrook teaches resilience, what our program, staff and overall philosophy provide to help our girls handle setbacks later in their lives. (Please take a moment to read it.) We’ve said it many times before, and this is an example; woven into all the excitement and fun of camp are really significant lifelong benefits for kids.
Today’s rafting trips are another example of your girls’ resilience. After a great night camping at our outpost located further upstream on the Nantahala River, complete with s’more making and wildlife encounters (a beautiful Eastern Box Turtle, a couple of girls discovered by flashlight), we woke to a light rain. By the time we reached the put-in to begin rafting, we had a steady, let’s-get-wet, kind of rain. Without hesitation or any sign of dampened spirits, the girls were soon suited up in blue spray jackets (for a little added warmth), PFDs, helmets and paddles, and ready to go. It’s hard to hold back an excited group of girls, and this was no exception. Even before the first rapid, boats were singing, cheering, bouncing around in the rafts, and doing “high fives” with their paddles. Rain or no rain, perfect conditions or not, these girls were having big fun.
At camp, lunch was an elaborate taco fiesta, complete with Eulogia’s homemade guacamole to top ground beef, black beans, diced tomatoes, Mexican rice, cheese and salsa. Each table/cabin had a plate of crunchy and soft taco shells, and an unlimited supply in the kitchen for seconds. There was a little action over at the peanut butter and jelly station, but not much. Oh, and the muffins today were another of Katie’s creative combination recipes: Krispy Kreme, Applejack Muffins. Yep, they had chopped doughnuts in the batter and Applejack cereal blended in “for color and a little crunch,” as she put it. And for dessert tonight, Katie surprised everyone with homemade cinnamon rolls that she baked with just the right amount of sugar rolled up in a thin dough, sliced, and lightly glazed. We had no trouble gobbling those right up!
After dinner, a group of counselors presented a new, action-packed Twilight activity called “Gold Rush.” Working in cabin groups, the girls learned that hidden around the camp were “golden nuggets” (wiffle balls painted gold, actually) and that they were to find as many as they could, with the cabin gathering the most winning a special treat (spending rest hour by the lake, for example). They also stationed “Bandits” around the camp who could steal a cabin’s gold if the girls couldn’t sing a certain RBC song or answer a trivia question correctly. This was a high-energy event with the campers looking high and low all over the camp. In the end, we awarded several prizes to each age group. It was an evening spent enjoying the wooded setting of camp, the cool, fresh mountain air, and the company of friends playing a silly game… Exactly the kind of evening we love around here.