It’s only been a few days into the session, and already it’s clear that camp life is the good life. A casual stroll around the camp, really at any time, proves it. We have happy girls everywhere, engaged caring counselors, and genuine enthusiasm spilling out of every activity. It’s remarkable too how quickly this positive momentum has appeared. You see it at archery when the girls cheer for each shot that hits the target, at the Alpine Tower when a camper makes it to the top platform, and at Curosty when the looms vibrate from quick fingers at work. The poses at Yoga, the canoe strokes at the lake, the backhands on the tennis courts, the careful protocols and aim at the riflery range —together, there seems to be a natural rhythm to camp now. It’s fascinating to see all this relaxed, comfortable and confident activity.
There also has been tremendous interest in the adventure trips being offered each day. When the staff announces a trip, the girls have been literally running to sign up. There’s been so much interest in overnight backpacking, for example, we’ve added more chances to go in the coming days. The Juniors have been filling day hiking trips, and tomorrow’s rock climbing outing to Looking Glass Rock will have a full group leaving bright and early. Likewise for the zip line trips: quickly full of eager adventurers. It’s impressive how much these girls are ready for everything camp has to offer!
The entire Senior line spent their cabin day evening having a wild time at Sliding Rock. Just before dinner we loaded up all the buses, and drove up to a great grassy spot in the forest for a picnic dinner of hot dogs, Rick’s homemade coleslaw, potato chips and fruit. A quick game of “I’m a Rockbrook Girl” helped digest our meal before driving the short distance to the Rock. Once again, since we were sliding after hours, we had the place to ourselves and the girls could easily get back in line to slide several times. Some slid as many as 6 or 7 times tonight! Back in the buses and after a short drive back down the mountain, Dolly’s Dairy bar was our last stop of the evening. Cups and cones of delicious “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion,” or some other camp flavor made a nice cap for the fun trip.
Keep that snail mail coming. Receiving a true card or letter in their mailbox is a wonderful gift for the girls. Follow the instructions for keeping in touch on this page.
Here’s a photo that illustrates a few very important things about life at Rockbrook. First notice what the girls are nibbling; it’s today’s flavor of muffin. As you may already know —since this Rockbrook tradition is truly legendary— we serve fresh baked muffins everyday between the first and second activity periods. Brigid and Becky, our camp bakers, surprise us with these special treats creating all kinds of unique flavors. Yesterday is was pumpkin chocolate chip, which is always popular, but today we enjoyed a completely new variety: vanilla bean, cherry muffins. Man, they were good! Rick explained that they soaked vanilla beans and used locally grown cherries in the recipe. Outrageous!
The girls are also standing in front of the camper mailboxes on the dining hall porch. Mail. Everybody loves it at camp. Being away from home and isolated to some extent from the outside world makes receiving mail even more delightful. Send us some news. Maybe add a silly joke, like one of these jokes for kids written by Sofie. Have you been sending letters to your daughter, or at least emails? She will love it, and if you’re lucky will write you back.
It looks like (By the way, clicking the photos of the blog will bring up a larger version) Ellie is holding a Hodge Podge project popular right now, a tie pillow. It’s a pillow made from two pieces of cloth “sewn” together by tying knots in strips cut around the edges. These are sometimes called ‘no-sew pillows.” They are quick and fun to make, and often become quite elaborate as the girls then decorate them with fabric paint, beads and other shiny bits.
Finally, this photo nicely typifies how happy and relaxed the campers are at Rockbrook. Quick to smile, embrace each other, and support their friends with true feelings of generosity and care, these girls are peeling away layers of habits and concerns, and discovering how good it feels to be who they really are. In the context of a community brimming with encouragement, these girls can’t help but blossom. It’s not magic, but it is marvelous.
Isn’t that an amazing tree! Just a root of it is bigger than two people! Located in the Pisgah Forest at an elevation above 5100 feet, it’s an example of an old-growth evergreen tree that’s very rare in the forest these days, following the extensive logging of this area in the early twentieth century. We stumbled upon it this morning while out hiking with the Hi-Ups (our sixteen year old campers). Of course we couldn’t just walk by without touching it, feeling it, smelling and even tasting it! And grabbing a quick snap to share.
The hour of free time after dinner we call “Twilight” brought the return tonight of our friend and master drummer Billy Zanski. He arrived from Asheville ready to teach any interested girls how to play the Djembe and DunDun drums, and to lead everyone in what essentially became a drumming dance party in the hillside lodge. Campers and counselors alike took turns drumming and dancing, each whirling their hands over the skins of the drums and their feet across the wood floor of the lodge. The whole scene was energizing and fun, a special kind of group experience that we love at Rockbrook.
With so much going on at camp and with so many people involved, all simultaneously, it’s astonishing to add it all up. While some girls are screaming as they fly by on the zipline, others are silently stretching into yoga poses listening to quiet flute music. As floor looms click back and forth slowing revealing their weaving patterns, pottery wheels spin splattering mud when a bowl forms in the exact center. One girl rides a horse and another the water slide. Campers shoot bows and arrows, as well as .22 caliber rifles. They hit tennis balls with rackets and volleyballs with their fists. As some girls tie a figure-eight into their kernmantle climbing rope, others tie embroidery floss into square knots to make a friendship bracelet. Campers are leaping off the diving board into the lake, while others are jumping on the mini tramp to flip in gymnastics. With plenty of tie dyes, paints, markers, and glitter, we have an army of girls happy to add color to just about anything. In these ways and others, camp is an energetic mass of movement, and an awesome swarm of smiling busy girls.
Have you written a letter or sent an email or two to your daughter? Here’s some info about the addresses and such, but it’s worth repeating that receiving mail is a big deal at camp. After lunch and just before the girls return to their cabins for Rest Hour, everyone checks their mailboxes. Seeing a card, letter or folded piece of paper (a printed email) is always a nice surprise, and it’s the perfect inspiration for writing a response home! In your letters, tell your girls how you’re proud of what they’re accomplishing at camp, sprinkled with some encouragement to try new things. Pass along lighthearted, upbeat news from home, while trying not to dwell on what she’s missing while away or how much you miss her. Maybe include one of these kid-friendly jokes written by our own Sofie Ehlinger. Do you know why the pig was red, for example? He was out all day BACON in the sun! Here is some more good advice about how to write to your kids at camp. In the end, “Just write!”
“Hey Middlers! Hey Seniors! Do you want to go whitewater rafting?” That was the question we asked all of the girls on those lines, and perhaps predictably, about 90% of them said “yes,” with some choosing to do even more by camping overnight at Rockbrook’s Nantahala Outpost. These overnight rafting girls drove over on Monday night and had a great time eating dinner, making ‘smores over a campfire, goofing around in the platform cabins (with a package of glow sticks for each cabin making it even cooler), and simply enjoying this “middle of nowhere” campsite. The next morning, the girls hit the water under bright sunny skies, the perfect weather for a trip down the icy Nantahala river. For several of these Middlers it was their first time rafting, yet almost immediately, even before the first named rapid, they were laughing and squealing with delight. The Nantahala provides a nice balance of thrilling rapids with sizable waves and calm spots in the river where the girls can splash each other and even jump out for a brief swim.
I was able to take a little video as a few of our rafts came through the final rapid, the Nantahala Falls (or “Lesser Wesser” as some call it). Have a look and you can see why rafting is HUGE fun!
Our afternoon group of rafters, which was primarily Seniors this time, likewise had an excellent adventure trip with hot sunny weather, and just as much high-pitched fun.
When we all arrived back at camp, a special event dinner was ramping up, a jungle/animal themed meal we called “A Night at the Zoo.” This was a fun opportunity to dress like your favorite animal and have a dinner party singing jungle and animal songs. So tonight we had an entire table of cats, a few butterflies, a squid, a platypus, bears, a turtle, several bunnies, a pink panther (Director Sarah!), and a whole school of fish enjoying a meal together. Hamburgers, sweet potato fries, salad and watermelon with chocolate chip cookie bars for dessert… yummy and fun!
After dinner, during our “Twilight” period of free time (before the start of “Evening Program”), several counselors held a “pet show” on the hill where different girls could show off their “pets.” There were dog tricks, and a super strong rabbit, but the funniest was the gorilla who could do cartwheels. It was all pretty silly stuff, and as that, really great as well.
As the sun began to set far off across the distant Blue Ridge Mountains, the lyric painted on the dining hall poster during dinner tonight seemed all the more apt: “But the sun rolling high… Through the sapphire sky… Keeps great and small on the endless round.”
Here it is, only the second full day of the session, and we’ve already got almost half of the camp out whitewater rafting on the Nantahala river. This many girls excited to go, to jump right into an outdoor adventure, was no surprise because these second session Rockbrook girls are full of energy, and these trips are so awesome. The word is out, if you come to Rockbrook (and you’re old enough… Unfortunately, the US Forest Service permit we hold limits our rafting to girls who are 5th grade and older), you’ll get to go whitewater rafting.
We actually started this extravaganza day of rafting the night before with 3 buses of girls packing sleeping bags and extra clothes to go spend the night at Rockbrook’s outpost camp over near the river in Swain County. The outpost is a unique piece of property Rockbrook acquired and improved back in 1988. It adjoins the Nantahala National Forest, is more than 1000 feet higher in elevation than Rockbrook’s main camp property, and is only about a mile from the Appalachian Trail. To say it’s “in the middle of nowhere” is pretty accurate, or at least it definitely feels like it when we arrive with the girls. The outpost is a great place to spend the night with a large group too, with 3 large camping shelters (each screened in, with a tin roof, and deck jutting out into the woods), a simple bathroom, but also a dining hall where we can serve meals. With the group settled into the shelters, we first devoured our dinner of pasta, salad and fruit, and afterwards, gathered around the campfire pit for the evening. It was just getting dark as Chase finished the fire and sent the girls scurrying about looking for a marshmallow roasting stick (avoiding the slightly toxic branches from rhododendron and mountain laurel bushes). This was very exciting because she also had a basket of graham crackers and chocolate bars, which meant we were going to make s’mores. Soon there were some marshmallows burnt to a crisp, and others patiently roasted to a golden brown, allowing everyone to have fun making this classic camping treat.
The next morning about 9am, we met our team of raft guides at the river’s edge to gear up for our whitewater adventure, the first of two for the day. A helmet, PFD and paddle for each girl, and 5-7 girls per raft, we outfitted 7 boats for this trip. The Nantahala, which is a Cherokee word meaning “River of the noonday sun,” is a river formed by both a natural flow and extra water released through Duke Energy’s hydroelectric plant. Throughout the day, water from the bottom of the Nantahala Lake is released back into the river making it great for rafting, albeit quite cold too (about 53 degrees). This morning we had bright sunshine though, so all the splashing and even the occasional (intentional or unintended) swim felt good.
If you look at the terrified faces of the girls in these rafting photos, it might be difficult to understand why our campers love it so much. I think the answer begins with the fact that rafting is first of all a fun, social activity. In the boats there’s time to chat, sing, laugh, and goof around together, like when making up a cheer or slapping a “high five” with everyone’s paddles. Also though, rafting is a special thrill because it’s such a pure adventure. It’s a got an element of danger (managed by established safety procedures and equipment of course), a risk that something might go wrong, like falling out of the boat, that we successfully conquer in the end. The struggle of the experience, in this case the cold water, the rocks and waves of the river, the challenge of it all, makes succeeding feel really good. The girls can sense that through their efforts, they’ve accomplished something. In this way, though they wouldn’t put it like this, whitewater rafting is a boost to their self confidence, masquerading in a wet and wild ride down the river.
With the afternoon rafting trip, which was comprised of another three vans, back at camp in time for dinner, we learned that tonight’s meal was to be “All American,” with American food, decorations, songs, and all manner of red, white and blue costumes. The decorations were a hoot. Several counselors painted banners with slogans like “America the Beautiful,” USA, and “Freedom,” but also “Walmart,” McDonalds,” and “Coke.” Flags, streamers and balloons hung from the rafters, and all kinds of American-themed songs played over the speakers: “Party in the USA,” “Proud to be an American,” “American Girl,” and the “Star Spangled Banner.” To eat, Rick had Hamburgers and all the fixings, French Fries, and Watermelon. For costumes, you can see we had a visit from Captain America, and some pretty cool red, white and blue hats, sunglasses and shirts. The whole event was pumping with energy as the girls sang their favorite songs and started cheers, laughing and chatting between bites.
A quick word about sending mail to camp… Keep it coming! The old fashioned snail mail is the most exciting thing to receive in a camper’s mailbox, but our postal service here struggles to keep up with the huge amount of mail arriving in this area (14 summer camps in the county alone!). So I would suggest writing regular lettings and sending occasional emails as well. This will make sure your daughter has something in her box most days while she’s here.
The excitement around here exploded today as we welcomed our June Mini Session campers to Rockbrook. Ninety Four girls, about half of who are new to camp, joined the full session girls who arrived last week bringing the camp to completely full. After a few stops to see the medical team (pediatrician, nurses, and “head check” specialists) and office folks, and after taking some time to peruse the latest RBC gear, the new girls and their counselors could begin moving into their cabins. “Top bunk or bottom bunk?” and “Where should I keep my trunk?” are the most immediate questions to answer, but it doesn’t take long to make beds, arrange a stuffed animal or two, or maybe hang a small photo or poster to make these old (many almost 100 year-old) cabins feel cozy. Meeting your new cabin mates is another fun part of this process. It feels so good to have everyone here at last. Now the dining hall will be extra loud when everyone is singing, the activity classes will include more friends to talk with, the free swim periods (one before lunch and another before dinner) at the lake will be more of an event.
A little after noon, everyone gathered on the grassy hill at the center of camp, and under the shade of the big walnut tree heard Sarah, the other directors and the Line Heads (counselors in charge of each age group) introduce themselves and announce the plans for the rest of the day. The Hi-Up campers (10th graders) led everyone in several songs, and then we gathered into groups to take State photographs. It was fun to see that Florida and Georgia were the two largest groups, the there were girls and counselors representing many other states, like Massachusetts, Colorado and even California. Lunch was fantastic. Rick had for us, his homemade barbeque chicken (or tempeh), a cheese grits casserole, and fresh steamed broccoli, as well as our deluxe salad bars which he stocked with other vegetables, fruits and sandwhich spreads. This was true comfort food, perfect for our first full meal together. And, it was devoured!
A brief note about technology at camp… As you know, we strive to teach our campers the value of slowing down a little, reconnecting to the natural world and to the people around us. We believe that “unplugging,” taking a break from the flicker of television, phone, and computer screens, really helps girls get more out of camp. This can be a little difficult at first, especially it seems for the teenagers (I once saw a camper actually kiss her iPhone as she said “goodbye” to it on opening day.) but it only takes a day or two of camp life, of experiencing the satisfying feeling of it, to realize that fully engaging the world is so much better than the virtual abstractions technology offers. That’s a great lesson.
We were fortunate to be able to hold our swimming demonstrations for the new campers after lunch and before the weather turned on us. There were only a couple of cabins who couldn’t squeeze in their demos before the rain, and we’ll take care of theirs tomorrow. We also were able to have our afternoon scavenger hunt that sent the girls all over the camp to visit a dozen or so activity areas and to meet the instructors. There were skits and games to perform at each station, and at some, snacks like fruit and goldfish kept everyone energized. This was all in preparation for the girls signing up for their first set of scheduled activities later in the evening, and for tomorrow’s action.
Keep those cards, letters and emails coming! We love mail at camp!
Receiving 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!
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.