Hey there! My name is Emily Schmitt and this is my eighth summer at Rockbrook! Six of those years have been as a camper and I’m now in my second year on staff, this year being my first as a full counselor. Last year, I lived the CIT (counselor in training) life and was not sure what to expect this summer because I’d be filling a role completely new to me.
I’m on the Middler line, leading a group of girls either going into sixth or seventh grade— so a very transformative period in their lives to say the least. I started coming to camp at this age. I was about to start sixth grade and though I remember a lot about my camper years, details of my activities and the small minutia of camp life have faded from my memory. The main thing I remember clear as day are all the interactions I had with my counselors. They were my world when I was at camp. I was so obsessed that even after my second senior year I made one of my counselor’s names my computer password! Yeah, I was that obsessed.
I was here for second session this summer and now that we’re officially in third session, which happens to be the session I attended as a camper, I’m getting daily confirmations of the impact that I’m making on my campers— something that surprises me every time it happens. Recently, we had Jugband, where the whole camp gathers together and we sing old camp songs, make silly jokes, put on our best southern accent, and use anything around us as an instrument. I took on the persona of ‘May,’ short for “Mayonnaise,” and soon after my campers started to copy me, and in the back of my mind I knew it was because they were following my lead.
I’m teaching tennis and riflery this session, and though I am experienced down on the riflery range, tennis is something I am less proficient in, although I’ve played casually before. This was rather daunting for me, but I knew if I was enthusiastic, then the girls would be too. So, when we were signing up for activities, I explained to my girls that I was doing something that made me slightly uncomfortable, but I was going to do it with all I had and encouraged them to follow suit. Many of my campers signed up for new activities like climbing and gymnastics, and I even got one of my girls to sign up for tennis! Another example was during our Animal Planet themed dinner, when I started singing along to the songs that were playing over the speaker. Soon my whole table chimed in, and we were all singing along to “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King.
It’s in the small ways that I know I’m making a difference in these girls lives, like when one of them will randomly give me a hug or they’ll call out my name as I’m walking down the hill, just to wave. Back when I was a camper, I didn’t know or realize that the small interactions I had with my counselors meant as much to them as it did to me. These girls are the reason I love this job and the reason I hope to come back for many more years to help create the magic of Rockbrook and make this place as special for my campers as it was for me when I was growing up.
These past few days, between the two July mini sessions, have allowed the full-session campers to dig deeper into various activities and spend a little more time honing their skills and knowledge of techniques. For example, down closer to the French Broad river where Rockbrook’s Riding Center is located, our young equestrians have been riding and working up to more advanced skills. The covered arena with its engineered footing (2 types of polyester fibers blended with a fine silica sand, and kept moist with regular watering) has been an ideal place for setting up cross rails and other vertical jumps for the girls. Some of the more popular horses, like Smoke, Snoopy and Rodin, have been working on the jumps with the girls. These are horses that train throughout the year at St. Andrew’s University, and are very good at trotting and cantering over poles, as well as experienced jumpers. They know exactly what to do when their rider approaches a jump, eager to clear it. It’s wonderful to see the smile on the girls’ faces as they zoom over the jumps.
The same is true for adventure activities. Climbers ventured off-camp to Looking Glass Rock for a day working on the climb called B-52, while kayakers tackled the more advanced section of the Green River. Even in the craft activities, the weavers finished edges, t-shirts were dyed with a new pattern, and the pottery folks learned more about throwing on the wheel. The friendship bracelet patterns are becoming more complex and the needlecraft projects more intricate.
On the other hand, these few days also seemed to take on a slightly more relaxed pace of life. With added familiarity came greater comfort, making moments of free time feel great. We seem to be hanging out more naturally and simply enjoying each other’s company. Instead of a race, we’ve discovered a sense of place. Instead of a goal, we’re taking a leisurely stroll.
Tonight’s evening program was an all-camp campfire, but one with a silly theme— Jug Band. Inspired by aspects of Appalachian culture, but along the lines of the old TV show “Hee Haw,” the campers and counselors dressed in their mountain attire (flannels, overalls, bandannas), tied their hair in pigtails, and in some cases painted freckles on their cheeks. Even Sarah arrived dressed as “Sayrry,” a mountain granny wearing a long dress, carrying a walking stick, and a pet (rubber) rattlesnake. The program included group songs, skits, and folks taking turns telling jokes. We sang “Rocky Top,” “Sippin’ Cider,” “Mountain Dew,” “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain,” and others. There was a skit performed to the “Rooster Song.” All along, the girls played improvised “musical” instruments like shakers, cans, and other things to tap or bang. For jokes, we heard that you call a pig that knows karate “Pork Chop” and when a horse is being negative it’s a real neigh-sayer. With a nice campfire glowing with orange flames and the whole camp gathered around, it was a fun and amusing evening.
On the bulletin board where announcements are posted, you’ll see the lost and found list. As the name suggests, campers update the list about belongings they have lost or found while at camp. Sometimes the list gets pretty specific (“If anyone sees a sock that is blue with cooked pink shrimp on it, please return it to Middler 6!”), and we read the list aloud frequently to make sure that girls return with everything they came here with. When the list was read today, though, there wasn’t anything on the lost list. In fact, there were only items on the found list. I thought this was beautifully poetic—it represented the ways in which the community was looking out for each other, even before anyone realized they had lost something.
In many ways, this idea seeps into our everyday lives at camp. In coming to camp, we lose things, or more accurately, are without things. We have the basics in our trunk: a flashlight, a book, some clothes, and some friendship bracelet string, but we are without some of the more present items of our existence: our phones, our computers, the familiar environments we are used to. Yet camp girls come back every year, and daydream about it all throughout the year. I think that is because they have found so much more at camp than they have lost. They find strength in them that they never knew was there before, they find that they have a lot in common with people from different backgrounds, they find the capacity in them to be giving and authentic—the found list is much longer than the lost list.
Throughout camp, the exchange between lost and found is seen every day. Today, it was announced that there was going to be a trip on the camp zip-line course. The zip-line goes throughout the back side of camp, taking girls across waterfalls and through the trees. This trip is generally offered multiple times every day, and is always wildly popular. As this was the first activity day for many girls, today was a particularly popular day to sign up for the trip. Because the trip was so popular, it was impossible to get everyone who wanted to go today on the trip (they’ll definitely have more opportunities to go, though!). A trio of juniors who arrived yesterday were all in line for the trip. When two of them drew cards that meant that they could go, but one of them could not go, the two who were chosen to go on the trip gave up their spaces, saying that they would go another time when their friend could go. This beautifully exemplified this lost and found principle. Even though they lost going on the trip today, they found a way for them all to go together another time. More than that, though, they found a deeper sense of friendship and the joy that comes from being a loyal friend and the maturity that comes with compromising one’s own bliss for the good of others. They gained much more than they lost.
At camp, we see this in other ways too. Sometimes, what we lose is not as tangible as a sock or even a zip-line experience. A lot of the time, it’s our inhibitions and the things that prevent us from having fun and being our true selves. The other day, we were having an evening program called “Jug Band.” Jug Band is an old-fashioned campfire that incorporates Appalachian culture and silliness. Everyone brings an “instrument” (like rocks or brooms) and sings songs such as “Mountain Dew” and “Wagon Wheel.” Jug Band is incredibly fun, but is also incredibly silly. On the night of Jug Band, a middler cabin lacked their usual enthusiasm for the event. They were hesitant about going, and did not want to dress up. Their counselors, however, started playing on instruments (trunks and tennis rackets) and making up songs. Before long, the entire cabin was joining in the fun, creating their own band! By the time they showed up to Jug Band, they were some of the most enthusiastic and spirited campers at the fire.
In their cabin, the band kept practicing and writing new songs. The band’s name was “Saurkraut,” (the spelling is intentional) and tonight during twilight, Saurkraut had their first performance. They created tickets that they handed out to everyone (some of the tickets were even autographed: ‘Saurkraut! Rock out!’) and one of their hit songs was “Do You Jam, Bro?” The band was a hit, and the reviews were raving, “That’s the best thing that’s ever happened at twilight!” When inhibitions were lost, Saurkraut was found. Creativity, a greater sense of community, identity, and the ability to let our hair down—these are the things we find here at camp.
The other thing about lost and found at camp is that we learn to live without the things we have lost. We realize we can live without that sock, that we can thrive without our phones. But when things are found, we gain a new appreciation for them. We want to keep what we’ve found safe, we know it in an entirely different way. I think that’s how the intangibles at camp work, too. We find this authentic version of ourselves, someone who knows how to compromise and get along with others, who seeks the best in others, who isn’t afraid to get her hair wet. When we go home, we have a new appreciation for this version of ourselves, and we live differently, as we continue to stay found.
You probably already know about our daily muffins, about how we have a baker who arrives early in the morning to bake a surprise flavor of muffin for everyone at camp to enjoy around 11am. It’s an exciting, homemade snack between activity periods that’s a highlight of the day for many of us. Word spreads pretty fast once the Hi-Ups pass the first muffin through the window on the dining hall porch, like today when a brand new flavor appeared: Cookie Crumble. They were amazing! Just look at them… huge chunks of Oreo cookie pieces in a soft vanilla muffin. Needless to say, all the extras seemed to disappear without a crumb remaining.
One of the coffee mugs here at camp —no doubt acquired at some point from the local Goodwill store— has three cartoon animals, a bear, a dog and a sheep, playing jump rope together, and proudly declares in red letters, “Fun is for Sharing.” More than just a cute mug, its message seems particularly true here at camp. After all, we share just about everything here and have great fun doing it. Like every true community, we do so much together— eat our meals, play, and create. We interact with each other all day, have conversations, communicating our insights, joys and frustrations. We wake and sleep at the same time. We open up to each other sharing our emotions, supporting each other with caring and compassion. We share the work of camp life too— setting up and cleaning up. While there are moments when we might enjoy time by ourselves, like reading on the hill or making a friendship bracelet in a porch rocking chair, more than likely we’ll be having fun with someone else or a group of people. Camp fun is inevitably shared fun.
Camp life is likewise a wonderful tangle of heart-felt relationships. It’s more fully human in that way. By always including others, by beginning with the ties of community, it helps us develop personal qualities that thrive in company. It provides real evidence of just how rich the world can be when it includes a range of perspectives, the unexpected quirks, and creative ideas offered by others. Life lived closely with others, as it is here at camp, is inevitably a source of humor, surprise, and many kinds of intense feelings. Never bored, we’re connected instead. Sure, being upset can sometimes be part of this community life, but with a basis of caring, kindness and generosity, we can work through that struggle too.
All good stuff, but there’s a habit that can form from all of this experience, and it’s a habit that I think you’ll appreciate. Maybe it survives only as a hunch, or a faint memory after the intensity of living in the camp community, but it’s this; being with others is the way to have fun. If you’re bored, then get together, be close. Rich entertainment comes through personal relationship. Camp teaches this lesson because we live it everyday. Our fun is that much better because we’re with others, not abstracted through an electronic device or flickering screen. So when you’re bored, do you reach for a screen, or do you look for a conversation with a real person? “Social” media is at best a weak substitute for real sharing, real fun. Maybe there’s not always someone around, but whenever there is, it can be fun. I hope that’s a hunch that can inspire us long after camp.
An example of this collective spirit happened tonight during our evening program when we held an all-camp campfire with an Appalachian mountain theme. This sort of campfire program is a tradition of sorts at Rockbrook called “Jug Band.” Akin to the old television show Hee-Haw, the counselors planned a variety show of songs, musical performances, skits and jokes. Of course, we included costumes and invited everyone to dress up with bandanas, overalls, hats and anything “country” they could think of. We sang lots of songs, like “Mountain Dew,” “She’ll be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain,” and “Wagon Wheel,” for example. The campers helped tell some of the jokes too: “Why was 6 afraid of 7? …Because seven ate nine!” Sarah made an appearance dressed as “Granny” and helped lead several of the songs. Here in the mountains of western North Carolina, set in woods beside huge rocks and ancient trees, and glowing from the campfire light, we sang and laughed together into the night. Yes, it was a lot of fun. What could be better?
I read recently that the average American spends about three hours a day on their phone. This number changes depending on who is reporting it, but there is truth to the fact that people spend a lot of their waking hours using their phones. This is not an inherently bad thing—phones give us an easy form of communication, entertainment, and information. At Rockbrook, we do not have phones, and I started thinking today about how that impacts our daily lives and how we use those three hours differently at camp.
While walking around today, I spent some time at Needlecraft where the girls were working on cross-stitching pillows. Needlecraft is a relaxing activity, located on the back porch of Curosty, surrounded by the sounds of flowing water and chirping birds. While working on their projects, the girls were spinning conversations about their lives at home, what they thought muffin break would be, and how much fun they had ziplining. It is the perfect setting for easy conversations, and every girl who has taken Needlecraft comes back talking about how easygoing and enjoyable the activity is.
Next, I walked down to climbing. In climbing, girls love to climb the Alpine Tower, a huge tower that is tucked in to the woods. On the Alpine Tower, three girls can climb at a time, and they can choose whichever route they want to reach the top. This year, if girls are able to put on their helmets and harnesses themselves, tie a proper figure eight follow through knot, and know their commands, they earn a bracelet. Upon accomplishing other landmarks, such as climbing all three sides blindfolded, they are able to earn beads for the bracelet. When they are not climbing, however, most campers are still engaged with the activity. Some spend the time practicing knots, others give the climber advice, while still others are trying to map out their own routes for when it is their turn to go up.
As I walked away from climbing, I realized that these are the moments when most of us use our phones when we are outside of camp. We look at our cell phones when waiting for something, when we are not actively engaged in a particular activity. The beauty of camp, then, is that it asks us to be constantly engaged. We are not being pulled in different directions and different places by social media and text messages with friends. We do not have an easy distraction from the present. Therefore, we are more likely to engage with each other.
After two activities, a free swim (where I saw many Rockbrook Runners decide to run Charlotte’s Loop twice—that’s about 4 miles!), and a delicious lunch, we were all ready for rest hour. Depending on whom you are asking, rest hour is the best hour. It is nestled in the precise center of our day, right after lunch and right before the rest of our activities. It is a time where every girl is asked to stay in bed and stay quiet, a time for us to all rejuvenate so we can have the energy to take on the rest of the day. Some girls listen to iPods, revisiting their favorite songs, but many others choose not to use electronics at all. They write letters, read books, fall asleep, or just use the time to think. We don’t usually talk about Rest Hour, but it is so key to our day. It gives campers a time to themselves, and gives them the freedom to figure out how they want to use it. This can be a challenging time for some campers, but learning how to keep oneself content without easy distractions like phones and other people can be a valuable lesson.
After Rest Hour, we had another activity period before candy break. Girls lined up to get their favorite candy bar, happy to have such a special treat. The final activity period came and went, and then it was time for second free swim. I spent time on the Lakeview Lodge porch with my cabin of girls. We sat in rocking chairs and talked, read, and made friendship bracelets for the entire hour. It felt like such a long and relaxing time. I heard someone comment that, at camp, the days go by slowly, but the weeks go by quickly. I agree with this sentiment completely.
We ate an incredible dinner of tortellini, fresh bread, mixed vegetables, and pesto sauce, followed by delicious homemade brownies for dessert. Amid songs, we told each other how our days had gone, and looked forward to the days ahead.
After dinner, we had quite a special event—Jug Band! This is a time-honored Rockbrook tradition. It’s part mountain culture appreciation, part all-camp campfire, and all fun. We all gathered together to sing songs around the campfire. A group of counselors led fun songs like “Mountain Dew,” “Rocky Top,” and “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain.” Everyone made an instrument to play along as part of the band. These instruments ranged from broomsticks to pots and pans. We laughed all night, as campers told their favorite jokes and counselors told stories and performed ridiculous skits. It was such a simple evening. All we needed was a campfire, a homemade instrument, and a group of enthusiastic girls. But it may have been my favorite night of camp so far. Everyone was just so engaged in the simple silliness, and participating in it was perfection.
When jug band was over, we went to the lodge to wait for milk and cookies. While waiting, the senior line girls kept telling more jokes and challenging each other with trivia questions. It was another moment that they chose to engage and now have a memory instead of being distracted. Once milk and cookies had ended, some cabins stayed up talking about their days and their lives.
As we finally got into bed after a long, exciting day, I realized that so much of the time we spend at camp is time telling stories. We tell stories about our pets, our friends, our families, and our experiences. We do this more than we normally would because it is just so easy to talk to people at camp. This is one reason we are able to get so close, so fast. When we get home, we will probably use our phones regularly (though maybe we will be more intentional about it) and we will probably return to life as normal. Yet we will still tell stories. We will continue to share our experiences with those around us. Most campers find that, when they go home, they can’t help but tell stories from camp for weeks and weeks after. The impact of being engaged, then, is that we are living our lives in such a way that we have the best stories to tell.
“So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life. Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.”
We awoke this morning to the rising bell as usual, and groggily got out of bed. (I’m sure somewhere on camp, girls get up with pep and energy, but on the senior line, we place a high value on sleep.) Once we woke up a bit, though, by sharing bits of news for the day at breakfast and playing a stimulating game of Ships and Sailors at morning assembly, we were ready to greet the day.
Today was the first day of a new rotation of activities. On the first day of activities, it’s as though the whole camp is refreshed and reenergized—girls are trying new things, or at least taking activities with new people. It gives campers a sense of variety, and asks them to choose whether they want to continue developing one particular skill or to try something completely new.
While walking around camp, I got to see the benefits of both of these approaches to activities. I first walked in to a dance class full of senior girls, practicing for the upcoming dance show. Some of them had danced before for plays and musicals, while others were laughing about how it would take them quite awhile to learn a chasse. The mood in dance, though, does not distinguish the girls who have danced from those who never have. A counselor teaches in a calm tone, laughing right along with the girls as they try to get the moves at once. They show me the beginning of their dance, and they are all equally excited about the success of their ripple. The girls are equally excited about coming together to do the ripple. As I walked away from the dance class, it hit me how welcoming and inclusive the dance class had been. Dancing, particularly in front of other people, is a vulnerable and intimidating action. Yet here were ten teenagers, making progress together, but mostly feeling totally comfortable and happy trying something new.
I think this exemplifies the philosophy of activities at Rockbrook. We are focused on the process rather than the outcome. In this way, mistakes are not just okay—they are celebrated. When campers make mistakes, it means they have tried something new and challenged what they thought possible. The noncompetitive environment of Rockbrook helps campers feel safe and supported even when they do make a mistake. They feel intrinsically motivated to try new things without outside pressures.
Initially when I came to Rockbrook, I remember being hesitant about this philosophy. Coming from a competitive academic environment and skills-focused surroundings, I wanted my activity to focus on outcome. If a girl could not tie a figure eight knot at the end of climbing, then what was she really learning? Eventually, though, I realized that I missed the point. I think this is typical outside of camp—school and sports are so focused on an objective that we rarely consider the virtues of the process itself. For climbing, even when girls do not reach the top, they are learning to push themselves beyond what they thought their limits were, but also learning that sometimes it is okay to stop. Rockbrook’s philosophy has become so central to my perspective outside of life. Although objectives are still important, I have learned to slow down and consider all that I am learning along the way.
I witnessed this today in climbing, actually. I arrived at climbing toward the end of the period, so Clyde Carter, the head of our outdoors program, was teaching the girls knots as the class was winding down. I saw girls trying to tie the knots, some ropes looking like a scrambled tangle, others coming close but it falling apart as they tried to tighten it. Clyde remarked in his gently humorous way, “They’re doing everything right, except tying the knot.” This was a perfect description of the feeling of following instructions step by step, but still struggling with an objective. There was no pressure to learn the knot, and some campers decided to put the rope away and get out of their harnesses. A couple of them were determined. One stood in front of Clyde and said assertively, “I will get this knot!” He then proceeded to explain it to her again and again until she could tie it.
In addition to creating a safe place to make new mistakes, the noncompetitive environment also encourages campers to be intrinsically motivated, rather than extrinsically motivated. They choose where they want their energy to go, whether it’s tying a knot, finishing mermaid laps, or going on a whitewater-kayaking trip. This gives them the power to set and achieve their own goals, not because they are a part of a team or because they need a good grade, but for the satisfaction of completing a task they choose to care about.
It is easier to make mistakes and to try new things in an environment that is noncompetitive, but it becomes even easier when that environment also does not take itself too seriously. We all had a great evening program that is best described as silly. The evening program was called Jug Band, and we all paid homage to the mountain heritage of Rockbrook. We dressed up in flannels and overalls, fashioned our own instruments out of hairbrushes and water bottles, and headed down to Vesper Rock for an old-fashioned campfire. We sang songs like ‘Mountain Dew,’ ‘Rocky Top,’ and ‘I Love Little Willy,’ while campers told their favorite jokes and counselors performed goofy skits. Everyone laughed and played along to the mountain tunes before the moon lit up the mountains and signaled that it was time for bed.
Unlike any other place I know, Rockbrook gives us subtle freedom and the realization that we should be making mistakes. We should never demand perfection from ourselves because it is only within trying new things, not taking ourselves too seriously, and being gentle with ourselves can we begin to take authentic ownership of our lives. These first session girls have one week of camp left, and we will continue learning these lessons every day that we spend at camp. When we leave, I hope we will continue to make new mistakes. I hope we continue to be brave enough to try new things and have the humility to laugh at ourselves when things do not go as planned. I hope we are able to write a paper on Romeo and Juliet or solve a hard math problem and take time to appreciate the process, not just the grade. I hope we are able to motivate ourselves to practice violin or practice our serves in tennis because we innately want to improve, not just because someone told us to. Ultimately, I hope our lives away from camp flourish because of our lives in camp.
It would be easy to go on and on about the food we all enjoy here at Rockbrook because everyday Rick and his team of cooks in the kitchen serve us wonderful, healthy meals. Lately dishes like his homemade lasagna (made with Rick’s special marinara tomato sauce, and 3 kinds of cheese!), freshly baked Focaccio bread (imagine the giant bowls of flour and the jug of bubbling yeast used to make the dough), and Caesar Salad with his own croutons and homemade dressing come to mind. Thanks to Rick, Rockbrook meals are complete and always yummy. One counselor commented that she looks forward to returning from her day off because she can “eat well again.” You might think our staff would be tired of the food we serve and be craving “real food” out in the “real world,” but when our camp food is this good, it’s the other way around.
Accomplishing this isn’t easy. It takes a great deal of planning, preparation time, and hard work by lots of hands. Today we all enjoyed an amazing example as Rick presented a meal of pulled-pork barbecue he seasoned and grilled over the last 2 days. Let me describe some of the process. He started with 171 pounds of “Boston Butts” (pork shoulder) and rubbed each of the 16 pieces with a dry spice blend of brown sugar, garlic powder, paprika, dry mustard, black pepper, plenty of salt and his “secret ingredient” coffee. Next on our 8-foot grill hot with charcoal, he cooked everything until completely charred on the outside, carefully adjusting the temperature to make sure there’s plenty of smokey flavor added. This step alone took several hours! Each blackened butt, then goes on a rack pan so it can be baked at a low temperature for another 10 hours or so. This crucial step removes most of the fat leaving the tenderest meat behind. Once out of the oven and mostly cooled, and after “resting” a bit, the final step was to pull the meat apart creating the strands that give traditional southern barbecue its unique texture. Rick began this process by ripping the pieces apart with a custom-made shredding tool attached to a drill, and finally pulling the remaining chunks by hand. That’s some work! At dinner, Rick served this delicious, smokey seasoned pork with a homemade vinegar-based sauce and soft buns to make barbecue sandwiches. He added freshly cut coleslaw, and warm baked beans to complete this very southern meal. And it was fantastic! After second and even third helpings, several of us felt perhaps a little too full, but also completely satisfied.
Today’s weather turned wet on us with light grey cloudy skies, temperatures in the 60s and an occasional light drizzle of rain. That moisture, while deepening the greens of the forest around us, brings out colorful raincoats and rubber boots as the girls make their way between activity buildings. Most activities stayed indoors, but the rain was light enough to allow some, like archery for example, to carry on. This meant wearing long sleeves of some sort or even a raincoat, but the girls seemed unfazed and even shot quite well, as you can see here with Sophia’s bullseye arrow.
Tonight’s Evening Program split the camp, because of the rain, into two groups for an Appalachian-inspired campfire program in the main Lodges. Somewhat reminiscent of the old television show “Hee-Haw,” the girls came dressed in flannel and jeans, found bandannas to tie back their pigtails, and even painted freckles on their cheeks. We called this program “Jug Band” because it included plenty of familiar songs to sing— “Mountain Dew,” “Cider Song,” and “Wagon Wheel” for example —and we encouraged the girls to play along on improvised instruments like shakers or other “jugs.” The program alternated between songs, funny skits, and opportunities to tell jokes. We learned, for example, what the sushi said to the hornet… “Wasabi!” And apparently, what you give a pig with a rash… “Oinkment.” With warm fires crackling in the fireplaces this was a delightful way for both groups to enjoy the cool misty evening, and a wonderful way to wrap up the day.
When girls select the craft activity we call “Hodge Podge,” they learn what could be described as a camp tradition: how to make a tie-dye t-shirt. Made popular in the 1960s, but before that practiced in West Africa for centuries, tie-dying found its way to summer camps. And judging by all the stripes, swirls and ribbons of color seen on t-shirts around camp, that tradition of using dye to decorate clothing is clearly still strong at Rockbrook. The process starts by soaking your cloth (usually a t-shirt, but anything cotton will do… Socks, bandannas, or pillow cases, for example) in a solution of urea which helps keep the cloth damp when the dye is applied. Next the cloth is twisted, folded or tied with rubber bands into repeating patterns like spirals, v-shapes, or bullseyes. Then, using plastic squirt bottles, you carefully drip different water-based colored dyes onto the cloth. After a day of letting the dye “set,” is very exciting to untie the cloth and discover how the dyes have blended and been absorbed differently where the rubber bands were tight. As you can see from this photo, the result are eye-popping!
This morning Andy and Emily led a group of campers on a canoe trip down a short section of the French Broad River. This river has its headwaters near the town of Rosman (still in Transylvania County, where Brevard is the county seat) not far from camp, and as it slowly grows in size, it passes by the Rockbrook Camp property adjoining several of our horseback riding pastures. This is very convenient because it allows us to begin a canoe trip upstream, and, as was the case today, paddle to a point on camp property to take out. There are several public places to put on the river so we can run a shorter or longer trip depending on the skills of the paddlers and the amount of time we have available. Today the girls had excellent sunny weather and spent a good hour and a half out on the water. The French Broad ultimately forms the Tennessee River, and from there leads to the Ohio, and finally the Mississippi River. So I suppose if we had enough time (i.e., probably a few months), Rockbrook girls could start at camp and paddle all the way to New Orleans!
Another event at Rockbrook that has become a tradition is a visit to the local ice cream stand known as “Dolly’s Dairy Bar” or just “Dolly’s” for short. I would guess every child in the area, certainly all the children at Rockbrook, believes Dolly’s has “the best ice cream in the world,” as one camper assured me. So it’s a big deal to stop and sample one of the unique flavors offered, flavors named after the 20 or so nearby summer camps. For example, there is “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion,” “Falling Creek Fantasy,” “Green River Plunge,” and so forth. Each of these camp flavors is a different combination of ice cream and toppings already mixed in, and they are wonderful. Today after lunch we took two cabins of Junior campers to Dolly’s and had a grand time sitting outside licking our cones and posing for photos (often with freshly signed— by Dolly herself —stickers). Ultimately, the idea of making an “ice cream mustache” caught on and got a little messy, but that’s the kind of fun that’s easily cleaned up with a few napkins in the end.
Our evening program tonight was something we call “Jug Band,” an all-camp campfire that included live music and costumes in the spirit of traditional, though in a “Hee-Haw” inspired way, Appalachian culture. The counselors and campers dressed in their best overalls, straw hats, and flannel, braided their hair in pigtails, and painted freckles on their cheeks to complete the look. With three guitars, a banjo, ukelele and plenty of makeshift instruments like shakers and other “jugs” to play, we enjoyed a program of sing-a-long songs punctuated by jokes and short skits. “She’ll be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountian,” “Mountain Dew,” and “Wagon Wheel” were the clear favorites, even inspiring some dancing as well as singing. With the crickets chirping along and the occasional bullfrog from the lake contributing a note now and then, the whole camp sounded great. Great camp fun, and an excellent way to end the day.