Feeling the Joys of Nature

Sunday mornings begin at a more relaxed pace compared to the rest of the week. We all sleep in an extra few minutes and then arrive for breakfast in pajamas… no worries about being dressed with cabin chores done beforehand. Also on Sunday, it’s been a long standing treat to serve fresh donuts along with our breakfast, having a little taste of the outside world. Then there’s cabin time for changing into our uniforms (white with a red tie) before assembling on the hill for flag raising. The Hi-Ups do the honors of presenting and raising the flag. Immediately afterwards, everyone walks down the lower line of cabins to the wooded amphitheater where we hold our Chapel program.

nature camp programToday the Middler campers and some of their counselors presented a program on “Nature.” Like all of our chapel programs, this gathering was not a religious ceremony, but instead an opportunity to identify and reflect upon a core value or experience we all share at camp. In the past, we’ve held chapel programs on friendship, kindness, gratitude, community, and compassion for example. This morning we took time to consider our relationship with the natural world.

We sang “Tell me Why,” a slightly modified lyric to “Country Roads,” (“Almost Heaven, Rockbrook Camp..”) and “What a Wonderful World,” accompanied by Tunde on guitar and Isa playing ukulele. We heard short readings on Nature selected by campers Sidney, E.A., Amelia, and Elizabeth.

Camper K.P. read a short reflection she wrote about her feelings in Nature and its importance to all of us. She said,

Nature is all around us. It is a big part of Rockbrook and it has a role in almost everything we do here. Rafting the Nantahala, hiking to Castle Rock, even dinner on the hill: Nature is a way of life around Rockbrook and we all live it.

Sometimes it is calming to just sit on the Hillside Lodge porch and look down at the garden, watch campers play in the creek, and see the girls splashing around in the lake. The serene setting of Rockbrook on a North Carolina mountain surrounded by trees and species of plants is the nicest place I know.

girls in camp uniformsSarah echoed this sentiment by reading the illustrated children’s book, “You Are Never Alone” by Elin Kelsey. This is a wonderful reminder of how nature touches almost every aspect of our lives, that “this beautiful planet showers [us] with gifts” in so many ways. The book illustrates how nature supports and at times heals us, how it stimulates our emotions, sense of wonder and imagination. Quite literally, Nature helps us be human. Much like what we enjoy at Rockbrook, it is a “warm, supportive, community that is always there for [us].” Sarah added how lucky we are at camp to experience the plants and animals of the forest (yes, even the “sprickets”) so intimately, feeling the joys of Nature without a care in the world. This message really resonated with the girls, many of them nodding their heads in agreement as she read the book. Good stuff!

Lunch was another incredible meal prepared by Rick and his kitchen crew— roasted, dry-rubbed chicken breasts, fingerling potatoes, and honey-glazed, oven-roasted Brussel sprouts, with fresh blackberries and whipped cream for dessert. Amazing! The food at Rockbrook always gets high marks, and with meals like this, you can easily see why!

playing corn hole with real corn donut on a string watermelon rubber band

Our all-camp afternoon activity was a wild carnival of events down at the landsports field. With fun music pumping, and different snacks to keep us going, the girls enjoyed group games and challenges related to the theme of “food.” For example, one event challenged the girls to eat a doughnut dangling from the end of a string without using their hands. Similarly, another challenge required the girls to peel a banana (first cut in half) using only their feet. We used actual pieces of corn on the cob to play games of corn hole. The girls took turns making “pies” of whipped cream to toss at their counselors. There was a “grit pit,” a literal pool of warm grits, to experience. There were cookies to decorate, and beaded composting “worms” to make. One game was particularly fun, a challenge to use only rubber bands to break open a watermelon. They girls worked together stretching two or three rubber bands at a time over each watermelon, gradually adding to the band’s total pressure. There was only a small crack forming to warn them before the melon exploded to bits leaving a ball of sticky rubber bands behind. It was very exciting, and the kind of big crazy fun, we love at camp.

goofy camp kids

Joyfully Messy

ropes course climberWatch out for those climbers! All morning at the high ropes climbing tower set in the woods behind the gym, girls were scurrying up different elements to reach the 50-foot-high platform perched high in the trees. Three girls can climb on the tower at the same time, each pulling up on a different rope, log, or handhold. This allows the ordinary group of nine girls to climb multiple times during their 1-hour activity period. During the class of older girls, the climbing staff was teaching belay techniques, giving those interested a chance to run the rope for a climber. With the staff member keeping two hands on the rope as a backup, the girls had fun helping each stay safe while climbing… not to mention, climbing themselves!

Since it’s Wednesday, we paused our regular activity schedule in the afternoon for a chance to do something special as cabin groups. Ordinarily the girls run off and follow an individually selected set of activities, so it’s nice to do something together once a week. The cabin group and their counselors decide what to do too!

color paint war on t-shirts camp face spa girl

Today there were some really fun cabin day activities going on. One group hung out at the lake, while another took a hike to Rockbrook Falls. The CA girls did a blind trust walk led by their counselors, eventually ending up to watch a movie. Another Senior cabin enjoyed a “color war” of sorts on the hill. They all put on new white t-shirts and, armed with cups of colorful paint, had a hilarious time splattering each other and being joyfully messy. A cabin of Juniors decided to have an afternoon, outdoor spa experience that involved giving each other an avocado face mask complete with a cucumber eye treatment. Very fancy! There was a little joyful mess here too as the girls relaxed on the grassy hill by the creek allowing their cleansing treatments to do their work.

two girls sliding rockFor all the Middler girls and their counselors, today was their chance to visit one of the most popular spots in the Pisgah National Forest— Sliding Rock. Like a little army of 100 people, we drove into the forest to have a picnic dinner and run around a bit. The kitchen packed us trays of hot pasta, salad and fruit, more than we could possibly eat. We arrived at Sliding Rock and found it deserted, perfect for our army to conquer! After a brief introduction, it took no time for our middlers to be zipping down the 60-foot water slide to the pool below where our lifeguards were waiting. We slid for more than an hour, until it was getting a little dark. Our final stop was Dolly’s Dairy bar, everyone’s favorite ice cream shop conveniently located at the entrance of the forest. You have to drive by it to go to Pisgah, so we can’t not stop on the way home. And the girls, of course, love it! Dolly’s has specialty flavors named after many of the local summer camps. “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion” seems to always be popular with the girls. Very chocolatey, and delicious. A little chilled, but still excited and happy, the girls returned to camp ready to warm up and rest of the night. It was a great day.

summer camp climber girls

Nick at Night

Who remembers watching Nickelodeon growing up? For many of us, thinking of the TV shows we watched when we were younger brings up nostalgia. This year, we decided to combine those nostalgic feelings with the pure fun and silliness that is Nickelodeon into a crazy surprise event! After lunch, we switched up our normal announcements routine and headed out to the hill to watch our lineheads get slimed! Everyone loved watching these special counselors get covered in Nickelodeon-style green slime, but that was only the beginning…

The dining hall was decorated for dinner with streamers and panels showcasing Nickelodeon’s greatest hits throughout the years. During the meal, we played a game of counselor musical chairs — while the music played, counselors roamed the dining hall, showing off their best costumes. When the music stopped, they sat at the nearest table and got to spend time getting to know campers from different cabins and age groups. I loved getting to see all the counselors interact with new campers!

After dinner, we all headed to the gym for an evening program inspired by Nickelodeon’s Double Dare Challenges. We watched as campers and counselors participated in fun and messy challenges like “In Your Egg Hat” – a twist on a classic egg toss, but with a bucket attached to a helmet to catch each egg. However, many people’s favorite part of the evening was the final event. At dinner, each counselor’s chair had a number attached. Our game of musical chairs mixed up the numbers, and to end the night, we randomly selected a few counselor numbers to get slimed! All the campers cheered as counselors got covered in sticky green slime. After experiencing it myself, I can say that waiting for the slime to come was a little nerve-wracking, but the happiness on all the camper’s faces afterwards made it worth it. It was the perfect camp night, full of high energy and a little (lots of) messiness.

Good Clean Fun

Messy and Smiling

One of my favorite memories as a staff member at Rockbrook occurred one day early in Third Session a few years ago. A rainstorm had just cleared out, and I was walking to the Dining Hall, enjoying the reemerging sunshine. I walked past a shady spot by the stream, where a patch of earth had been transformed into a patch of mud. Two Juniors were jumping around in the mud, getting splatters all over their legs and clothes, and laughing uproariously when their feet would slide out from beneath them.

Dancing QueensThe noise attracted one of their counselors, who had been standing nearby. As she approached, the girls got very still, adjusted their giddy smiles into expressions of contrition, and waited to be reprimanded for making such a mess. The counselor stood quietly for a moment, looking them over, before kneeling, taking a handful of mud and spreading a wide streak of mud on each cheek, like war paint. “Can I play?” she asked.

I continued past the little group to the Dining Hall, leaving behind two awed and delighted campers, and one very, very cool counselor. I saw all three that evening at dinner, scrubbed clean. They were relating their adventures to the rest of their cabin—telling them all about the moment they realized that they were actually allowed to be dirty.

u809869_p7707493u809869_p7706727Now, there’s no need to worry, we do encourage frequent showers, parcel out daily chores to keep the cabins tidy, and have all campers and counselors help to clean up the tables after meals in the dining hall. That being said, we also do all that we can to discourage that aversion to getting dirty that seems only to get stronger in girls as they get older. It’s no secret that girls tend to become more focused on their appearance as they get older, and Senior campers have expressed to me their reluctance even to do something as simple as getting their faces painted at home, for fear of looking dumb.

That fear of looking dumb, or silly, or improper, or anything other than perfectly presentable at all times, is a fear that camp manages to quash remarkably quickly considering how powerful it can be out in the “real world.” Within a few days at camp, makeup bags have been zipped up and put away, hair has been thrown up into messy buns, and hands have been stained by tie-dye and red clay.

Last night, we put that change on full display, by putting on a “girls’ dance,” a giant dance party—complete with a DJ, glow sticks, and strobe lights—down at the gym. After dinner, each age group went back to its lodge, where the girls decked themselves out in glow-in-the-dark facepaint, glow stick jewelry, and white clothes.

To get down to the gym, the girls had two options. They could either walk down the lower line of cabins to the gym, and start dancing a little early, OR they could take the messier route. Lining the lakeside road (which also leads to the gym), were counselors, CITs, and Hi Ups, toting water guns and bags of powder paint. Campers of all ages ran down this path, allowing themselves to be soaked first, then covered from head to toe in multicolored paint. Emerging from the other end of this “color run” was an army of human tie-dyes, racing to get to the gym and an evening of music and dancing.

With no slow dances with boys, streaky makeup, or pretty clothes to worry about, the girls danced harder and seemed to have more fun than I’d ever seen at a camp dance before. They streamed out of the gym again at bedtime, taking their milk and cookies with them as they went, giving no thought to their sweaty clothes, streaky painted faces, or tangled hair. The campers that I talked to could only express the fun they’d had, and maybe a bit of pride in the audacity it took for them to get a little messy.