Camp Days for Adults

whitewater rafting adventureThere’s a comment I hear fairly often, I’d say several times a year— “I wish Rockbrook had a summer camp for adults.” Sometimes moms, and more rarely dads, look fondly on the camp experience their daughters are having, and can imagine themselves enjoying it too. It’s remarkable that this adult desire to experience camp can arise simply by witnessing camp life from afar. The photo gallery, occasional highlights videos, our social media posts, and this blog all paint an attractive picture, one that proves camp is great for the girls themselves, but also somehow is evocative for adults too. So how about it mom and dad? Do you want to go to camp?

On one level, I suspect most adults would say no.  No thanks!  Living at camp is too difficult and requires too many compromises we grown ups have come to happily avoid. Sleeping in a room with nine or more people, having the weather as a constant personal companion, relinquishing all technology (no smart phones, television, or news updates!), accepting limited food options, and being physically active most of the day, all sound like “roughing it,” and would most likely be unpleasant for the average adult. In these ways and others, camp is fun for kids, but most adults won’t get a kick out of bug juice, so to speak.

camp girl pulling archery bowPerhaps the activities are what make some adults yearn for camp. They too want to shoot an arrow and a real gun, climb the high ropes course tower and a real rock, swim in the chilly lake and fly high in the trees on the zipline course. Many of the activities at Rockbrook look intrinsically rewarding— throwing a pot on the potter’s wheel, finding a weaving rhythm on one of the vintage floor looms, tying and dying a t-shirt, for example. What a nice change it would be from our mundane 9-5, to raft the Nantahala River, backpack and camp in the Pisgah Forest, or simply enjoy the mountain view high up on Castle Rock. For some adults, camp looks enjoyable because they could try all these activities that are ordinarily difficult to experience otherwise.

That seems too simple though, too much like an amusing holiday. Rockbrook parents know that camp isn’t just entertainment. In fact, some of what we do here isn’t fun at all, and yet the girls will tell you they love camp despite the chores, the bugs, and the challenges of being away from the comforts of home. As we’ve said before, campers embrace the difficult aspects of camp life because they are strengthened by the positive community culture of Rockbrook. Being included in a community of kind, caring and generous people helps ignite confidence and nurture resilience in everyone. The scary stuff just gets easier when you are so constantly and genuinely supported for who you really are.

casual camp girlsAgain, I believe it’s the special community here that explains why the girls at Rockbrook tend to feel so happy and relaxed throughout the day, breezily chatting and comfortably enjoying each other’s company. That’s why they make their best friends at camp. When you start with a collective spirit of positivity, and include regular moments of silliness and celebration, almost every day becomes a chance to laugh together, sing together, and grow closer no matter what the activities. There’s a certain presence that springs from all of this throughout the day.  Life at camp feels somehow more real and more meaningful, rich with opportunities. At Rockbrook, we spend our days in ways that are simply very, very good.

In some ways then, we adults long for camp days because we recognize their inherent good.  As the routine working world demands we maximize productivity and efficiency, camp represents a place where we can put our relationships with people first, a cultural haven defined by values that foster wonderful details and beautiful surprises. Just as it is for our children, we’d like to experience these same sorts of camp days.  After all, we know there’s a life well-lived to be found among camp days. A camp like this… for adults… that would be nice.

riding down sliding rock

A Camp of Goddesses

Leaves in nature goddess hairEveryone knows that Rockbrook is a “fairyland of beauty” home to countless forest spirits who work tirelessly to enliven our experience of nature and make the camp magical. Just glance to the side anywhere around here, and you’re bound to see something beautiful.  Today Rockbrook was also a land of Greek goddesses.  With a little help from the Hi-Ups, each cabin was given a particular goddess to follow— dress according to her characteristics, use her symbols and icons, and playfully emulate her personality. For example, Selene, goddess of the moon, Gaia, goddess of the earth, and Hecate, goddess of magic all came alive at camp today. Keeping it kid friendly, we selected about a dozen goddesses in all. The costumes ranged from elaborate dresses with crowns and golden jewelry, to delightfully homemade adornments. Ate, the goddess of folly used lots of feathers, while Gaia had leaves, moss, and twigs woven into clothing and hair. Antheia, the goddess of flowers was definitely the most colorful. When all of our various goddesses arrived at their activities, the counselors played along asking them to demonstrate their qualities and special personality. It turns out that goddesses are right at home here at Rockbrook, easily enjoying all the action and inter-action that defines our days.  The girls happily bestowed more magic, folly, nature, flowers and success on all of us.

rocking chair camp craftsSo how is it possible that these girls were so terrifically excited to become goddesses for a day, to dress and behave in costume for everyone to see? Isn’t that just weird, or embarrassing? Honestly, it is, and outside of camp, most of these girls wouldn’t dare walk around with leaves in their hair, or a necklace of clover flowers, or wearing a full-length cloak. At the same time though, there was no awkwardness in this for the campers. They seemed instead to revel in the opportunity to express themselves so freely, to laugh with each other, and to explore untapped aspects of their personality and who they are deep down.

This makes sense when you realize that Rockbrook is a haven for girls, a special place where they feel safe, supported, and valued. It’s an intentional community built upon positive relationships— cooperation, communication, encouragement, generosity, respect and care. Led by a fantastic staff of adult role models, this camp community listens and accepts and has an amazing power to bring people closer, foster confidence and grit.

In this special environment where it’s easy to relax and be our true selves, it’s also natural to find friends, enjoy the tiniest adventure, and try new things. It’s a recipe for what the girls simply call “fun.”

It’s also worth recognizing that all too often girls experience the opposite in their daily lives the rest of the year. Life at home and school comes with social ideals and standards, and often kids thereby feel pressure (even anxiety) to perform and even look a certain way.  In the face of competition and lacking genuine community support, our kids ordinary experience can inspire insecurities, self-doubt and unhappiness.

That’s why we were a camp of goddesses today. And thank goodness! These days more than ever, your girls need time and a special place like Rockbrook for them to feel good about being their true selves, to put aside social pressures, to play and to grow.

It’s a daily joy for us to see it all unfold so beautifully.

girl camp buddies

Explosive Results

girl camp rockbookToday we opened our second camp session of the summer welcoming a little more than 200 girls to Rockbrook with what can easily be described as explosive results. Starting with the very first camper arriving, you could feel a special energy that rapidly expanded all morning, reaching its height around 10am. In what seemed like no time, we had more than a hundred girls through the check-in process and happily filling the camp with their enthusiasm and excitement. Each arriving camper added to the emotion of the day— anticipation realized, joyful reunion, simple affability, immersive natural beauty, immediate belonging —amplifying everyone’s experience and making even the first few minutes at camp fun. Most of the girls were wearing their new RBC t-shirt, so as the morning unfolded, we saw more and more red and blue on the grassy hill. An opening day like today is always a wonderful mix of meeting new campers who are attending Rockbrook for the first time, and seeing former campers returning to camp. With this much power, these girls are going to have a great session.

Naturally, we didn’t idle while everyone was arriving. Once parents said goodbye, groups of campers formed for friendship bracelet making, a hike out to Rockbrook falls (the largest of the waterfalls on the camp property), a game of tetherball or gagaball, or just playing in the creek that feeds the lake. Other groups took tours of the camp, exploring the different activity areas, even heading down through the tunnel to go see our new covered horseback riding arena.

Teen girl camp assemblyAround noon or so the whole camp gathered under the walnut tree on the hill for a quick program of introductions and songs. Led by Sarah, this was a chance for the girls to show their camp spirit by singing their line songs and for everyone to meet the line heads, Hi-Ups and a few special activity instructors. Sitting together like this, standing to cheer now and then —all with a gorgeous mountain view in the background— it seemed like the magic of camp was already at work. The girls were relaxing and opening up, lounging together, and chattering easily. It seemed to me camp had already (this fast!) become a haven for the girls, a special place of welcome relief ready to provide— daily experience with close friends away from technology and the pressures of school, kindness offered in a caring community, and time to explore the wonders of nature and engage new activities. Even though we haven’t yet experienced all of these, there’s already a feeling this is special.

Later in the afternoon, the campers received an orientation to the lake and demonstrated for the lifeguards their swimming ability. We ask every camper and counselor to do this “swim demo,” and based on the results, to wear a color-coded, elastic necklace whenever they wish to swim in the lake or participate in any of the water-related trips offered. With fun music playing and hot chocolate and lemonade waiting for after the swim, the girls enjoyed trying out the lake and knowing they are set for more “refreshing” during free swims each day.

camp climbing skittennis camp skitRight before dinner, the counselors and activity instructors presented a series of skits to highlight what to expect in the different activities offered this session. From tennis, to archery, to rock climbing, the skits kept us laughing. For example, the Climbing instructors formed a “rock” that one climbed using a harness, rope and helmet. The Tennis instructors dressed like tennis balls and told a few jokes while being hit in an imaginary tennis match. The Paddling staff used a kayak and all the basic paddling gear (helmets, skirts, PFDs, etc.) to simulate kayaking through a whitewater rapid.  The skits provided an introduction to each activity while showcasing the creativity and personality of the staff. After dinner, the girls will sign up for their first rotation of activity selections, so these introductions will help them decide what to take.

It’s been a wonderful first day for both the campers and staff members. We’re now more oriented to the camp and to the activities offered. We’ve gotten to know each other better, and now we’re even more ready to dive into the action in the morning.

New Camp Friends

A Haven for Friendship

Camp friends hugging

One of deepest and longest lasting rewards of a residential camp experience, particularly true here at Rockbrook, is the quality of the friendships formed between the girls. Camp friends are special for some reason, closer and more satisfying than the people you know at home or at school. Why that’s the case is interesting.

Rockbrook is a “haven for close friendships” partly because it is a community built foremost upon warmth and caring for everyone. Camp is a place were every girl here belongs, and is fully included, respected and valued. From the directors and staff members on down, we begin with compassion and generosity, with spirited communication and cooperation, and end up with genuine encouragement. This is powerful stuff when you experience it everyday from everyone around you. It becomes a positive force that encourages the girls, indeed the counselors too, to move past what they believe others (parents and peers, for example) want them to be, and to explore their true personality, spirit and character, their “authentic selves.” This is a welcome feeling of freedom, but it’s also the secret to making really deep friendships. Camp has the power to dissolve that common artificiality driving so many “real world” interactions, and thereby also to fuel the genuine connections that bind true friends. Camp proves how posing is the enemy of friendship.

Combined with the shared experience of camp— the activities, meals and free time together —and the “boy-distraction-free” environment we enjoy, Rockbrook empowers girls to make friends by having the confidence to be themselves.

Camp girls geocaching

This morning our friend Matt Christian arrived to offer the campers an introduction to “geocaching.” Geocaching is essentially a “real-world treasure hunt” where players use GPS devices to find hidden “caches,” often waterproof boxes containing notepads to sign when found, and other surprising knickknacks. Matt carefully positioned several caches around camp for the girls, and after teaming up into groups of 2 or 3, and learning to use the GPS units, they explored the camp property looking for their “treasures.” Some were easy to spot, being out in the open, but others were truly camouflaged. Geocaching is a worldwide phenomenon, and can be something fun to do even at home. Here’s the official Web site to learn more.

Tonight we held a camp tradition that seems to always send a shudder of excitement through the dining hall when it’s announced. The deafening roar proved it today at lunch when the girls learned we would be dancing with the boys of Camp Carolina tonight. Fire up the showers, bust out the clean shirt, find your hairbrush (or in one case I noticed… your hair curlers), and for some, devise your best silly costume… dance night can take some preparation! We held 2 simultaneous dances, one here at Rockbrook for the youngest girls, and the other at Carolina for the Seniors and Hi-Ups. This made the number of children manageable at both camps, and allowed for more age-appropriate dances and music. The younger campers had a great time dancing together and with their counselors, mostly oblivious to the boys, while the older girls jumped around, laughing, singing (and sweating) to the beat. Tonight was also fun to see several brothers and sisters finding each other and being happy to reunite after being away at different camps. The whole evening was sweet and lighthearted with your girls being polite and gracious in every way.

Camp girls at dance party
Brother Sister Pair at Camp Dance

Lastly, I wanted to pass along news that Rockbrook is being briefly recognized in the current summer issue of Preservation: The Magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The article mentions our 19th-century log cabins, “Goodwill” and “Curosty,” as examples of well-preserved summer camp architecture still in use today.

The Ineffability of Camp

Girl shooting archery at summer camp


With summer drawing to an end and so many kids returning home from summer camp, Talya Minsberg writes in the New York Times about What Parents Don’t Get About Camp. The piece is partly a fond memory of life at camp for both campers, who “find the joy of growing and exploring on their own,” and as a staff members, who are the “warmest, silliest, most fun (and responsible)” people they can be. It’s one author’s recollection of how summer camp is a magical place bubbling with experiences for positive transformation. The article hints at the features of camp life that make it difficult to describe, that make kids’ stories from camp seem so inadequate— the close friendships, the freedom and independence, how hilarious things were —but in the end suggests it’s OK for parents and noncamp friends to not fully understand “camp.” You have to experience summer camp, to really “get” it.

And since camp is “a place of their own” (as Rockbrook’s mission recognizes), it’s perfectly natural, even preferable, for others to mistake what camp really is, to grasp only a faint sense of what it means to the campers and staff members who live it. We have to agree; it’s hard to describe the magic felt from living like we do at Rockbrook (despite our attempts to describe it all summer long), but that’s just part of it, and in the end, a very good thing.

A Haven from the Hectic

Does it seem to you like we are living in an increasingly hectic world? Look around and you’ll see families, and more importantly kids, being pulled into a whirlwind of commitments and scheduled activities, all while having less time than ever for quieter, slower things. They’re holding a hectic pace rushing from school to sports practices, from homework to home chores, cutting short time with family, or just the freedom to pursue whatever comes to mind. With rushed meals, complex logistics for “getting things done” and that ragged feeling of not getting quite enough sleep, it’s no wonder kids can so easily be unhappy.

Could it be that by “doing everything we can” to help our kids succeed and achieve, we parents are unintentionally failing to do something else? By charging full speed ahead and taking advantage of every opportunity, what other important things are we missing?

Camp as a sanctuary from hectic livingIt reminds me of a quote by Tomas Tranströmer (b. 1931), the Swedish poet who won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature. The author of more than 15 collections of poetry, Mr. Tranströmer has been described as “Sweden’s Robert Frost,” a poet who “gives us fresh access to reality… through his condensed, translucent images.” You definitely should look up his work. At any rate, he also wrote,

You can see beauty if you look quickly to the side.”

Quite keenly, this is a prescription, a welcome reminder that beauty is all around us, that if we stop speeding ahead and take a quick glance to the side, something wonderful is right there waiting to be discovered. It might be as simple as a clump of grass squeezing itself between two bricks, or the decorative trim on an old man’s hat, but more importantly, it could be a person, or a new inspiring experience. It’s pretty clear that as our lives become more hectic, we are missing out on all kinds of subtleties and precious opportunities to expand what we already know. How unfortunate, especially for our kids!

Thankfully, there is summer, a time when kids can slow down and enjoy a meandering pace. And likewise, thank goodness for summer camp, that special place where kids meet wonderful people, and every day encounter fun activities and new experiences. Camp is just brimming with these kinds of positive opportunities to grow. It provides the right balance of structured instruction and free time to pursue casual interests “just for the fun of it.”  At Rockbrook, the rewards of “looking quickly to the side” are frequent, rich and immediate.

While the rest of the world grows increasingly hectic, Rockbrook is an exception. And that’s a good thing.