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!”

Spirited Shenanigans

Whitewater Rafting Rapid

Being a camp community that spends most of its time outside, you can imagine that we pay a great deal of attention to the weather. But I should clarify that; the directors and other adults think about the weather, plan for it, make adjustments because of it, celebrating or bemoaning what mother nature sends our little nook in the mountains. We are focused on the weather (even to the point of installing our own weather station!), but the kids, the girls at Rockbrook generally are not. Today, for example, we had “perfect” warm and sunny weather for our whitewater rafting trips, and all of our other in-camp activities, but I don’t think the girls noticed it much. Instead, they paid attention to each other and to the activity, laughing and splashing, bumping and paddling down the Nantahala. It’s amazing how “in the moment” these girls are, oblivious to everything beyond what they’re doing and the friends they’re doing it with.  On other days, I’ve seen campers completely ignore the rain, happily wearing a hat instead of a raincoat, playing in the creek as if it was any other day. There’s no air conditioning in the cabins, but that simply doesn’t matter to the girls when there are so many more immediate things to discuss with bunkmates. When it’s hot and humid late in the day, that’s just another reason to head to the lake. The weather demands attention now and then, but most of the time it’s just the context for our daily camp experience. We all know, for example, to stay safely inside when there’s a threat of lighting, or the opposite, we may stop what we’re doing in amazement of a brief hail storm. This kind of complete engagement, energized immersion into the daily activities that structure our day— which makes “time fly” and fuels the intensity of the fun, by the way —makes everything external largely insignificant. The weather? “Oh yeah, I guess it rained.”

Rafting girls warming in the sun
Silly rafting girls

We took about 60 people whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River today. We offer this trip every year to all of the Middlers and Seniors, and for many it has become their favorite outdoor adventure experience of their session. One bus of girls chose to spend the night at our outpost near the river, enjoying a little camping complete with maybe one too many s’mores before bed. The river trip itself delivered plenty of frigid water and thrilling drops through the class II and III rapids, but as you can see the girls added a good dose of silliness to the trip as well, posing for photos, making “high-fives” with their paddles, and riding “the bull” until falling back into the boat or forward into the river. Using our own equipment and guides the girls already know helps this extra silly fun take over. Songs and spirited shenanigans all the way down!

Camp horseback riding girl

Be sure to take a look at the online photo gallery. Today’s shots are particularly good. We have two full-time photographers who roam around camp trying to capture the action. At times only one is working, and at others, both are busy trying to snap a photo of every girl (at least one!) while also showcasing the different activities all happening at once. It’s difficult to be everywhere at the same time, but especially when both photographers are working, they do an amazing job keeping the gallery interesting. Spend a few minutes scrolling through the photos and you will discover the incredible variety of things your girls are doing— riding, shooting, jumping, zipping, weaving, tie dying, playing, swimming, balancing, paddling, acting, painting… —but also I hope you’ll get a sense of how they’re learning along the way. Every activity involves specific skills, techniques, terminology, equipment or materials. Some require careful athletic coordination, imagination or creativity.  Personal qualities are being exercised too: perseverance, bravery, patience, humility, and stamina come to mind. Rockbrook’s organized camp activities bring all of this together, and when led by such amazing, caring instructors, and when the forces of “positive peer pressure” (“Let’s sign up for kayaking!”) soften feelings of hesitation, girls grow in astounding ways. They experience not just something novel and fun; they discover new success and confidence too.

Tower course climbing kid
girl learning to belay

Climbing is a great example of this learning, of the broad educational (in the best sense of the word) benefits of camp activities. Of course, beginners learn about the special equipment needed to climb safely: the kernmantle rope, helmet, locking carabiners, belay device, and harness with its array of straps and buckles. They learn about different climbing techniques: various holds, body positions, and balancing stances. The older girls can learn how to belay. There are mental skills also: concentration (“Don’t look down!”), determination, and problem solving each step of the way, for example.  Emotions like fear and frustration often play a role too, not to mention the elation of achieving the goal of reaching the top of a climb. Climbing means overcoming your fear of heights (which we all have to some extent) by learning to trust, to trust the safety equipment and ultimately to trust your own ability to climb effectively. Whether it’s on our high ropes climbing tower, wall in the gym, the routes on Castle Rock, or on Looking Glass Rock in the Pisgah Forest, the Rockbrook girls who climb are learning so much more than simply “how to climb.” So much more!

camp water slide girl

We’re Gaga!

If you take a stroll down behind the Rockbrook tennis courts, past the lower pottery studio, and through the tunnel under the highway, you’ll pop out by the French Broad River, nearby where all our horseback riding happens at camp. There we have our fenced pastures, horse barns, riding rings, and equestrian office— all on the west side of US276, while the majority of the camp, connected by the tunnel, is up the hills on the east side.

Horseback Riding Camper

This summer we have 30 horses at Rockbrook, all being superbly cared for by Kelsi, our Equestrian Director, and her staff of riding instructors. The personalities of the horses, their strengths and sensitivities, identify them as suitable for riders with specific skills and confidence riding. This photo, for example, shows Olivia riding Rocket, a 10-year-old thoroughbred/half linger cross who came to us from Mary Thomson at St. Andrews University. Isn’t it a great shot? Rocket can ride hunter jumpers and dressage, and has been used for several years in lessons for young children. He responds well to definite riders, and can be a little quick when jumping. It looks like he and Olivia— even their manes— are right in sync in their canter! If your daughter decides to take riding while she’s here at camp, you’ll no doubt hear about the favorite horse she rode, perhaps Otto, Watson, Annie, Quinn, or even Rocket. If you write her, you might ask about which horses she’s had a chance to ride. 😉

Gaga Ball Players

Ordinary dodgeball played in our gym is often part of the “Sports and Games” activity, but just outside is an octagonal court, about 20 feet wide with 30-inch high walls, that is for a special kind of dodgeball called GaGa (or Ga-ga Ball). The game is thought to have come from Israel and its name from the Hebrew word “ga” which means to touch or hit. “Israeli Dodgeball” is another name for it. Played mostly during free times at camp, like before lunch and after dinner, girls of any age and athletic ability can enjoy a game of Gaga. Any number can play too, making it easy to start a game and include everyone. The object is to hit a small, soft ball with your hands (not throw it) to hit other players in the leg, eliminating them from the game. As the girls knock the ball around inside the court, they jump wildly out of the way trying to avoid being hit. The court is just the right size to keep the game moving quickly, and soon when the last person is left (the winner) another game starts right up. Later in the week, there will certainly be an impromptu Gaga tournament for those girls gaga about gaga!

camp-girls

During the cabin skits tonight that were part of the Senior Line’s evening program, I was impressed by how much fun the girls were having being silly and performing for each other, but also by how close they had already become after only this first week of camp. It’s another of the amazing benefits of camp— by spending so much time together, unplugged from screens, sharing, communicating, and cooperating, your Rockbrook girls are also building emotional bonds with each other, growing more and more comfortable each day. It’s clear that camp life is fundamentally social, but perhaps different from the relationships formed at school, kindness and encouragement define the way Rockbrook girls treat each other. They are simply quick to be nice, and that really fuels the friendships being formed here. Over time, it’s this closeness that makes camp life so rich, and that’s so rewarding to experience.

A Night at Pride Rock

Rock Climbing KidS Camp
Canoe Camp Kids
Horseback Riding Kid

Lately the girls have been clamoring for a few of the special trips and activities we offer throughout the session, only now with perhaps some added urgency because they know we are reaching the end of our time together this session. Many of the them have been asking to ride the zip line one more time, for example. When the announcement was made at breakfast that we’ll have the zip line available today, you could hear a fluttery murmur of girls asking each other if they would do it again. Likewise, the trips offered to climb Castle Rock have been easily filled with repeat rock climbers. Since there are five different routes up there, that makes plenty of sense. The particularly avid climbers all want to get on another route, and probably one of the harder ones. Here’s another example: canoeing on the French Broad River. Emily took a group out this week to take advantage of the beautiful weather we’ve been having and to have a chance to just float along together.  Horseback Riding is no exception either. Campers who love riding have been eager to spend more time with their favorite horse, to ride Lacy, or Moe, or Smoke, for example, “one more time.” The same can be said for all of the regular activities at camp, for as we move toward the end of the session, we will be holding several special events that preempt our daily camp routines, events like the barn party (a chance for riders to demonstrate their skills and others to enjoy games with the horses), tournaments with Camp Carolina (when we challenge the boys to Archery, Riflery, and Tennis competitions) , the musical production (that’s tomorrow), and so forth.

The main event of the day, however, was something that’s been secreted planned since the first day of the session: the banquet, which is a themed dinner party celebrated by the entire camp. The 9th grade campers, our “CAs,” selected for their secret theme, The Lion King, based on the classic Disney Movie from 1994.  Their title was “A Night at Pride Rock.” As the photo below shows, the decorations were awesome, very colorful representations of African animals, the “Pride Lands,” and specific scenes from the movie. They hung colorful lights from the rafters which made the glitter of the posters sparkle. They (again the CA girls came up with all of this!) had souvenir red cups for each camper and candy decorating all of the tables, as well as animal masks, temporary tattoos, and special stickers.

Lion King Party Banquet

The costumes were also really great with all of the major characters from the movie represented. Of course, they dressed as the lions Simba, Mufasa, and Scar, but also Zazu the hornbill, Timon the meerkat, Pumbaa the warthog, and the “shaman” mandril Rafiki. Several counselors dressed up as hyenas completing the cast. It was a magical moment for the campers as they entered the dining hall and were greeted by these characters. Everyone seemed both astonished and excited as the full experience of the music, decorations and characters combined in the surprise.

Zazu Bird Costume
Meerkat Kid Costume
Baboon Kid Costume

The program included a series of skits and dances focused on the main songs from the movie: “Circle of Life” and “Hakuna Matata,” for example. They served hamburgers and french fries, chicken wings, and “zebra cakes” for dessert. They played music from the movie alternating with well-known pop music, which of course got the campers, dressed proudly in their blue RBC t-shirts, up to dance.

It was a fantastic party overall, a complete experience that everyone really enjoyed. The CA campers had fun, but also worked hard making that happen. Thanks girls!

Lion King Kids Costume