Messy and Good

Camp Fire Building instructionAnother outdoor activity we offer our girls here at Rockbrook is called “WHOA,” which stands for “Wilderness Hiking Outdoor Adventure.” It provides a broad introduction to outdoor skills like fire building, orienteering, map reading, knot tying, and plenty of hiking around the camp property. Each day the girls do something different. They might hike up the steep trail to the top of Castle Rock for a view across the French Broad River Valley to the Blue Ridge Mountains. They could make the trek out to Rockbrook Falls or up behind the camp to see Stick Biscuit Falls. Today the girls in WHOA learned the principles of fire building (the importance of heat, fuel and oxygen), how to collect dry wood, and different ways to stack twigs so they will ignite from a match. With the fire going, they couldn’t just let it burn without also roasting marshmallows. And with marshmallows roasting, they just had to make s’mores too. Fire building and outdoor cooking, especially when it ends with a yummy treat, makes for a popular activity.

Gren river NC kayaker girlCool Girl Kayaking close upGreen river NC kayaking groupThe whitewater kayakers at camp this session were busy again today, this time with a day-long trip to the lower Green River. With our fleet of colorful new kayaks lashed to a trailer, 8 girls and 2 counselors drove to the river and met Leland and Mary Ann, our lead kayaking instructors. The trip started with a brief refresher about basic safety and paddling techniques, but quickly turned to a discussion of how to read moving water, ferry across the river, and find calm eddies to rest. This section of the Green River is a perfect stretch of water for a beginner. It has class I and II rapids nicely spaced along about 6 miles. Today the weather was crisp with deep blue skies and all the warm sunshine we could soak up, an absolutely perfect day to be out paddling.

Shaving Cream Fight! That was the announcement during dinner inviting everyone down to the sports field for a slippery, and very messy, romp with cans of shaving cream. This was an optional event, but for many girls they had been waiting for the chance to frolic with all this white foam. Dressed in their bathing suits it took about 1 minute for everyone to be splattered and in some cases completely covered.

Shaving cream group funYou can tell from these photos that this event is ridiculously fun. It’s mischievous, yet perfectly OK at camp. It’s a kind of harmless messiness that feels great, and in this case, makes for a wild ride down the slip ‘n slide.

Girl Shaving Cream Face Shaving cream laughing girl Shaving Cream Wide Smile

We often say that camp is a special place where kids can do things that aren’t easily recreated elsewhere, either at home or at school. This is a clear example of that, but more importantly than being allowed to get a little grubby, a shaving cream “fight” like this brings the girls closer together. With shaving cream on everyone (yes, even on me), I think we dissolve the boundaries between us and strengthen our community. Of course the girls will say they are “just having fun,” but there’s something liberating and likewise unifying about the whole event. In so many ways, it feels really good.

Camp girls covered in shaving cream

Reward from the Game Itself

Camp Dodgeball Game for kids

The activity we call “Sports and Games” meets either in our gym or down on our sports field, and lately the girls have been doing so pretty cool stuff. There have been crazy games of dodgeball (e.g., one “International” version where you also defend a hockey goal), quick-paced basketball games, gym hockey, and volleyball. As you can see from this photo, these games are less about winning and more about the fun. They are ordinarily oblivious to the score, and instead focus the laughter of playing. The counselors leading the games still teach basic skills— how to serve a volleyball, for example —but we’re not so concerned about who can serve it the best. In this way, the game itself, rather than an individual triumph, provides the reward. All of this is another expression of our camp philosophy.

Camper's Kayak Trip
Kids kayaking at camp

Today a group of girls went whitewater kayaking on the Green River under the guidance of Leland Davis and Andria Baldovin Davis. Leland and Andria have worked with Rockbrook for three summers now both as raft guides and expert kayaking instructors. They easily have more than 20 years of whitewater boating experience and literally have “written the book” on whitewater kayaking in America. In addition to all the regular kayaking gear, the brightly colored plastic boats, Werner paddles, helmets, spray skirts and PFDs, the crew packed a lunch because this was an all-day trip. The weather cooperated beautifully with warm sunshine to balance the chilly water, and the girls had a fantastic time not only maneuvering through several challenging rapids like “Big Corky” and “Jacob’s Ladder,” but also taking a swim in a gentle part of the river. Everyone returned from their adventure excited and eager to take another kayaking trip later in the session.

Girl plunges down water slide

Back at camp, the sunshine inspired several campers to take a ride down our 150-foot water slide, a.k.a. “Big Samantha.” After walking along the boardwalk on the far side of the lake, and across the bridge over the creek, the girls climb a tower to the start of the slide. Vinyl tarp material, with a water spraying down it, provides the slide, and the lake at the bottom supplies the splash for each rider.  Most girls hold their nose because the the slide propels you out the bottom faster than you might think. A short swim over to the ladders and the girls can head back around for another slide.

After dinner, over in the Hillside Lodge, we gathered the whole camp for special evening program, a reptile and cold-blooded animal show. Daphne from “Cold Blooded Encounters” presented the show which included 14 different animals ranging from small salamanders, to lizards, a scorpion, an eastern box turtle (North Carolina’s official “State reptile”), a tarantula spider, a black King snake, and a 15 pound King Python. She presented each animal one by one, to at times the horrified screams of the campers. Of course, there were plenty of questions, like “Where do those snakes live?” and “Is that one poisonous?” Daphne was great with the girls, letting everyone get a good look at each animal as she walked around describing its unique characteristics and behaviors. At the end of the show, she invited the campers to come up and touch her King snake, proving to them that snakes are not “slimy,” but instead are usually smooth, cool and muscular. It was a fun, illuminating evening.

Cold Blooded Animal Show

Rockbrook’s Katniss

One of the most appealing things about Rockbrook is the opportunity to try new things.  Many times  you’ll be able to try activities that you wouldn’t be able to do at home for one reason or another.  For example, you may want to learn how to roll a kayak, but you don’t have one at home.  Try it at camp.  You may have always wanted to climb a rock, but who has access to a rock face and a professionally trained outdoors crew on a regular basis?  Climb one (or two, or three) at camp.  You get the idea — camp is the perfect place to try new things!

This could be the reason that one of the most appreciated Rockbrook activities is archery.  Who has the resources/equipment to try an activity like archery on their own?  Not many, that’s for sure.  For years, Archery has been one of the most sought after activities at camp.  That esteem has only increased thanks to the fact that the most celebrated book-turned-movie series out right now is The Hunger Games, a story in which the main character, Katniss Everdeen, is depicted as an underdog, then champion, then heroine.  And, as we all know by now, the skill that sets Katniss apart from the rest — she’s a magician with a bow and arrow.  Katniss with a bow and arrow is like Michael Jordan with the basketball as time expires during the playoffs: GOLDEN.  So, it’s only fitting that archery’s popularity as an activity at camp has soared.  Suddenly we find ourselves thinking: I want to be like Katniss.

This is where Rockbrook and Katniss collide.  Longtime Rockbrook girl, Marston, decided early on that archery was one of her favorite activities at camp.  It didn’t take us long to see how much Marston enjoyed archery, and bullseye after bullseye proved that she was pretty good at it too.  Besides loving archery, Marston’s also a pretty big Hunger Games fan.  Check out the photos below of Marston, on the left, and Katniss, on the right.  I’m no expert when it comes to archery technique, but I think Katniss could take a few tips from Marston.  Such focus, such form!

You go, Marston!
You go, Marston!

Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games
Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games

So Marston’s a super archer and she likes The Hunger Games.  Cool coincidence?  Here’s another awesome addition to the saga: Jennifer Lawrence, the Oscar award winning actress who plays Katniss, seems pretty hip by any standards, and Marston met her!!!!!!!!!!!!  Exciting, huh?  Archery, Katniss, Marston, and Rockbrook all coming together.  I wonder if Jennifer got any good shooting tips from Marston?  Maybe the two can set up a meeting on the range.  I have my money on the Rockbrook girl, our very own version of Katniss!

Martson and Jennifer Lawrence pow-wowing on the red carpet.
Martson and Jennifer Lawrence pow-wowing on the red carpet.

Creative Exuberance

Girl works on clay slab in camp ceramics classOne of the best epiphanies that happens at camp is when a young girl discovers her creative side, when she realizes that she can be artistic, imaginative and make wonderful things. Camp provides daily encouragement and opportunities to experiment with arts and crafts, to be bold and expressive using all kinds of physical media. At Rockbrook this means working with soft clay, yarns and fibers, threads, paint and ink, dyes, cloth, leather, wood and beads. Lately, the arts instructors have presented some pretty cool projects giving everyone something new to try. Girls are rolling out slabs of clay and pressing patterns made from scraps of lace. They’re sewing buttons and pieces of yarn to make sock puppets. With baskets of colorful thread, they’re learning about weft and warp, knit and pearl, back and half stitches. Blending melted crayons and thick black ink on paper, they’re creating bold multimedia designs. There’s incredible satisfaction here because your girls are seeing real results from their creative efforts. It’s showing them that amazing things can happen, far beyond what they might first expect, if they step out and trust their creative abilities.  What a great lesson for later in life, no matter what their eventual calling!

Camp girls hike near waterfallSummer Camp Girl KayakingSummer Camp Girl Rock ClimbingToday has also been filled with outdoor adventure trips, with girls and their instructors hiking, kayaking and climbing nearby forests, rivers and rocks.

The Hi-Ups (16 year-olds) took a “Hunger Games Hike” into the Dupont State Forest to visit a couple of sites where scenes from the recent movie were filmed. We scrambled up and over rocks to get the best view of Triple Falls, snapping pictures all the way. Feeling the cool spray at the bottom of a 100-foot waterfall while standing in bright warm sunshine is quite a feeling!

A group of kayakers spent the morning, and another the afternoon, paddling the French Broad River with superstar instructors Andria and Leland. They chose a great introductory section to practice ferrying (crossing the current from one side of the river to the other) and catching eddies (pulling into calm sections of the river, downstream from obstacles), both important whitewater kayaking skills. Reports back at camp were all positive and brimming with excitement.

Two groups of Middlers, meanwhile, spent the morning or afternoon activity periods rock climbing up on Castle Rock. There are six routes available up there and today the girls hopped on the two named “Shazam” and “Wham,” two of the more challenging options, each requiring both face and crack climbing techniques, as well as some real strength in steep spots. But boy can these girls climb! They may have slowed down to figure out a complex series of moves, maybe tried a tricky section more than once, but for the most part the girls scampered right up the 75-foot climbs. At the top, a fantastic view of the French Broad River valley is the reward, as well as the satisfaction of surmounting the challenges of the climb. When climbing, it can take real grit and concentration to forget how high up you are, and real muscle and balance to reach each handhold. These girls have got it all, and it shows!

Tonight we had a Disney-themed dinner where posters and other decorations transformed the dining hall and the campers and counselors dressed up like Disney characters (loosely interpreted- camp versions). Here too, creativity fueled the enthusiasm for dressing up. Using face paint, borrowed items of clothing, goofy hairstyles, and a few accessories, like “Mickey Ears,” we ate with various super heroes, princesses, a mermaid, a chipmunk, a chef, and a few bears. These Rockbrook girls love to dress up- “just for the fun of it.” They love the feeling of being silly, laughing their heads off with each other, posing and singing as loud as they can. It’s just their wonderful exuberance coming out in creative colorful ways.

Summer camps girls pose in Disney costumes

Zip Line Fever !

Rockbrook's bridge to start the zip lineGirl camper riding the Rockbrook Camp zip lineThroughout the spring and even into the last few days, we’ve been busily working on a secret project, and today we announced it to everyone at breakfast. Rockbrook now has a zip line! Not a simple, backyard sort of thing, it’s a 450-foot long, professionally designed and built, zip line, making it one of the longest in this part of North Carolina! The idea came to us over the winter when we noticed several huge boulders in the woods behind the camp. One was high and looked like a perfect launching spot for a zip line, but getting to it meant crossing a deep chasm over a creek. What to do? Build a bridge!  But here too, we decided to make something fun, a bridge that would swing a little and because it was high in the air, would make your feet tingle and your heart race as you crossed it. The bridge ended up being about 100 feet long and about 60 feet in the air as it crosses from one boulder to the other. The girls wear a climbing harness and helmet, and are tethered by strong rope as they cross to hook into the special dual-wheel zip line pulley. The ride down the cable only takes about 15 seconds, so you can imagine how fast these girls are zipping. On the far end, across the camp over near the Junior cabins, there’s a gently sloping wooden platform that provides a soft landing. The person zipping just puts their feet down, and with the help of a staff member, walks up the platform to finish and unclip. It works great. Now our challenge is to let everyone in camp give it a try (if they want to) before the end of the session. I’m sure you’ll be seeing more photos of happy zipping children over the next few days!

Today Clyde took a group of Middlers and Seniors kayaking on the Tuckaseegee River, meeting up with Andria and Leland our main whitewater guides. The “Tuck” is a great intermediate level river for kayaking because it has plenty of rapids to challenge the girls, but also nice big eddies (calm areas behind obstacles in the river) and flat stretches for playing and instruction from the guides. Also today, Emily had a different group of girls backpacking in the Pisgah Forest nearby John Rock. With their tents, food and water, and other camping gear, they hiked in about 3 miles, spent the night and will return in the morning.

February decorated birthday cake at campTonight was also everyone’s birthday at dinner with the return of “Birthday Night,” a fun Rockbrook tradition where we rearrange the dining hall to allow the campers and staff to sit according to their birth month. This time the counselors in charge decided to create an “Under the Sea” theme, so many of the cakes, one for each month, were decorated with water-related features. The dining hall also decorated with colorful banners and several staff members dressed in costumes added to the effect. Boy we sang “Happy Birthday” a bunch of times, ate a lot of cake, and had a grand time.

Rockbrook camp girls sitting on a porch rocking chair Rockbrook girls heading to swim at the lake

Fun and Formative

Camper girl kayaking clinicFor quite a while now we’ve talked about how Rockbrook is “a place for girls to grow,” how a sleepaway camp experience can be so instrumental in the lives of young girls, helping them socially, personally, and even physically. Being at Rockbrook is plenty of fun, of course, but it’s also formative in really important ways. Here’s an article we published back in February about how camp helps children grow.

The adventure activities at Rockbrook provide a good example of this. They are ideally suited to providing the right balance of challenge and success, in an active, friendly and supportive context. They are just right for inspiring campers and fostering their self-confidence and social skills. Take today’s kayaking trip down the French Broad River. The girls handled the rapids, stuck together as a group encouraging each other, and conquered the technical aspects of catching eddies, ferrying, and reading the river. There were international campers on the trip too (Belgium and Russia), giving the girls even more chances to learn from each other. Getting out of camp for a river trip like this is often a highlight of a girl’s camp experience, perhaps because it’s a more focused moment where she can feel good about her abilities and relationships. Or, perhaps it’s just a good time!

Camper Fairy HouseOur traditional Rockbrook “camp song” includes this line— The rosy mist of the morning, Veil it anew at dawn, Like a fairyland of beauty, Where friendships so true are born. This line is inspired by the notion that Rockbrook is a “fairyland of beauty,” that all of its natural beauty, the mosses, rocks, creeks, ferns and wildflowers for example, are the work of fairies. All of us at Rockbrook, being in this “wonder-full” place, can easily imagine friendly spirits working their magic all around us. This photo shows a “fairy house” a few of the girls have built near hiker’s rock. Gathering leaves, sticks, moss and other found bits of nature, they’ve been building several of these houses. Some have bathtubs, beds and even a set of “monkey bars” and a swing! Others were made mostly of rocks and colorful pebbles.  What fun to search the woods with your friends for special, enchanted fairy house building materials!  And, what a nice surprise to turn the corner in camp and encounter one of these special creations.

Girls dressed up for camp eventFor dinner tonight Rick made us a feast of baked tilapia, roasted red potatoes, steamed broccoli (along with our salad bars of fresh fruits and veggies), along with Alison’s homemade brownies for dessert. After dinner, Jane (who by the way is majoring in fine art photography at The Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, DC) grabbed the camera and announced an impromptu twilight activity for the girls: a silly glamor photo shoot. She encouraged folks to just dress up and come out to the hill to get their picture taken. Dressed in true Rockbrook spirit (i.e. super silly) mostly the Juniors got excited about the idea, and Jane captured a bunch of really great shots.

Don’t Forget to Write!

Girls receiving mail at summer campReceiving mail at camp is a huge deal to the campers. Everyday, someone from our office drives to the Brevard P.O. and wheels out a shopping cart full of cards and letters addressed to the girls at RBC. Even with our “no package” policy, there are usually a couple of hundred pieces per day! Then during lunch, we sort the mail and deliver it to the campers’ mailboxes so it will be ready once they’re dismissed from lunch. It’s always so exciting to check your box and see something there. Part of this excitement, I think, has something to do with the simple (mostly) technology-free living we enjoy at camp. Being away from screens and the external stimulation they provide, camp is more immediately interactive. It emphasizes real relationships and sensuous experiences, but is also completely “here and now” and relies very little on the outside world. Receiving mail reminds us of what’s going on outside in the “real world.” It provides some reassurance that everything is fine back home and it’s OK being at camp. Mail shows us that the folks back home are just as excited we are about us having this much fun at camp. Oh, and can you see why a real, hand-written letter is vastly superior to a “quick email?” Mail can really mean a lot!

Girls weaving baskets by the creek Yoga Camp girls eating muffins at summer camp

Today was a perfect summer day (warm, dry and sunny) for a perfect camp day (packed with action, plenty of giggles, and bright-eyed surprises). Clyde, Kristen and Abby took a group of Middlers out kayaking on the French Broad River. Jeff and Leslie took a big group of Juniors hiking to John Rock in the Pisgah National Forest. Thalia offered one of her very popular yoga classes to the seniors. Everyone paused for a cinnamon streusel muffin. And then it was back to weaving baskets in the creek near Curosty, working on backhands on the tennis courts, flips in gymnastics, and climbing to the top of Castle Rock. There always seems to be time to squeeze in a quick game of tetherball too. During the free swim time before dinner, the new water slide was running nonstop.

Tonight’s evening program marked the return of Auction, a special all-camp event we haven’t had in a few years. This session we went traditional and decided to make it a “Western” themed event. This meant all the girls came dressed in their best western garb… cowboy hats, boots, overalls, hair bows, bandanas and plenty of plaid. Each cabin sat together in the dining hall and was given a handful of RBC bucks to make bids on mystery prizes. Jerry, our Director Emeritus, ran the event as the auctioneer. Some of the prizes were sweet, like a cake or ice cream treat, while others were a little less exciting, like a tray of veggies or new toothbrushes. There’s plenty of suspense once a cabin won a bid, and just as much laughter and cheers when the prize was revealed. It’s funny how there were enough prizes for every cabin to win both a yummy and a silly prize… 😉  Good fun.

Auction game dressed in western garb

Camp Circus Picnic

Nantahala River whitewater rafting trip for camp girls
Nantahala River Kayaking Camp Kid

Today was a day of boating over on the Nantahala River. While the regular activities kept folks busy in camp— horses ridden, rocks climbed, games played and arts created —Clyde, Kelsey and Christine took a group of our more advanced kayakers out for the day. These are girls who have spent plenty of time working on their paddling skills and who have run other whitewater rivers. Several of the rapids on the Nantahala require precise paddling along specific lines. They require catching eddies and real concentration despite the roar of the whitewater. With Clyde leading (have you read Clyde’s profile?) and with Kelsey and Christine also instructing, the campers had outstanding models to follow and were well supervised. All day the campers paddled superbly, showing their enthusiasm and proving their skills on each challenge. The final, and largest rapid on the river gave everyone some trouble, but with the exception of the very last wave, all the campers handled it very well.

Meanwhile, another group, this time of Middlers, was rafting the Nantahala at the same time. Most of these girls, in contrast, had never been rafting or experienced the thrill of whitewater boating. We met our regular crew of guides at the put-in and geared everyone up with helmets, PFDs (life jackets or “personal flotation devices”) and paddles. Steff gave the group the safety talk explaining how to hold the paddle, how to sit in the boat, and what to do if you fall out into the river. Each boat of five or six campers has an experienced Rockbrook guide, so even if the girls forget something from the safety talk, there’s an adult right there to assist. Do you know how to catch a throw rope? Your camper does! The weather was nice and sunny, always a welcome buffer to the chill of the Nantahala’s water.

Summer Camp Picnic kids

The girls back at camp, also enjoying excellent sunny weather, had a picnic lunch out on the hill. Rick and the other kitchen folks whipped up mounds of homemade coleslaw and grilled hamburgers for everyone.  Add some cheese, lettuce, sliced local tomatoes, mayo, ketchup and mustard if you like, grab a cup of lemonade, and you’ve got a classic summertime meal. Top it off with a slice of watermelon, and what could be better?

Today was also circus dress up day at camp, a chance for the girls to pull out their costume accessories and become their favorite circus character. The were several brightly colored performers, mostly in leotards and tutus, but probably the most common costume was dressing as a clown. We saw huge funny shoes, goofy hats and plenty of over-sized glasses. There weren’t any wild animals to be tamed or do tricks, but we did see at least one pink fuzzy creature!

This month we’ve had 33 girls who have had their birthday while at camp. While some days there might be none, on others there are several girls on the same day (like 4 today!). The kitchen is always sure to bake each birthday girl a cake, and usually members of her cabin get together to help decorate it in true Rockbrook style, i.e. lots of frosting and candy 🙂 . The cabin mates often make a big colorful sign to hang in the dining hall as well. When the cake is brought out, candles lit, the whole dining hall sings Happy Birthday and ends with the chant, “Tell us when to stop!” One giant handclap, in unison, for each year— it’s a real celebration. Have you seen the Rockbrook Camp Youtube Channel? It’s got several short videos we’ve uploaded, including a birthday song to Carrie. Go check it out!

Circus dress up costumes for girls camp