Habits of Wonder and Joy

There were several special off-camp adventure trips available for the girls today. Beyond our regular short hikes, ziplining, and rock climbing here at camp throughout the week, these were chances to get out and see more of the amazing natural beauty of this area.

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Camp girls paddle boarding

A nice group of Middlers and Seniors signed up to go backpacking and camping in the Pisgah Forest. With their gear and provisions stowed in their packs, the crew began by hiking for a little less than an hour to a secluded camping site nearby John Rock. This rock is a fantastic destination. At an elevation of about 3200 feet, it provides a stunning view of the larger Looking Glass Rock across the valley formed by the Davidson River. When the girls emerged from the forest to reveal that view, jaws literally dropped and gasps of “oh wow!” proved how incredible it was. Cooking s’mores over their campfire, sleeping in a cozy tent, and enjoying that view together made everyone happy they signed up for the trip.

The next morning, several of those same backpacking girls wanted to join a rock climbing trip heading to Pilot Rock, another slab in Pisgah. So without returning to camp, these high adventurers joined the group heading out for a day of climbing. Two routes, one called “Chopped” and the other “400 Foot Rope,” kept everyone busy, and at the top thrilled by another amazing view of the surrounding mountain peaks.

Meanwhile, a full van of whitewater kayakers left camp for the day on the Tuckasegee river in Swain County. Including our three instructors, this was a group of 15 boats, making an impressive, colorful sight as these Rockbrook girls navigated their way through each rapid.

And then out at Lake Julia in the Dupont State Forest, another group of girls joined a session of paddle boarding. They enjoyed the warm sunny weather to explore the calm secluded lake, and even to do a bit of yoga balancing on the boards. Another gorgeous location for a day of adventure.

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In addition to the wow factor, the intensity of these outdoor experiences, there’s a subtle lesson they teach. It’s that the natural world is a wonderful place, quite literally full of wonder. By getting outside and immersing ourselves in a natural environment, like we do everyday at Rockbrook, we inevitably have unfamiliar yet fascinating experiences and encounter amazing things. Around here we almost come to expect that fascination— the pounding roar of a waterfall, the sharp call of a whippoorwill, the jolt of swimming in a chilly lake, the flash of a skunk waddling across our path at night, for example. Over time, as the days unfold at camp, we learn that if we open ourselves to new experiences (and this is made easier in a caring, supportive camp community), the world will provide rewarding moments of beauty, amazement, and wonder. Instead of feeling suspicion or hesitation, Rockbrook girls grow more curious and inspired to explore new things, fully expecting to be delighted in the process. Camp life fosters this habit, and later we hope, can serve as a resource enriching your girls experience long into the future.

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Camp shaving cream friends

At camp, there’s also the habit of joy, of unbridled hilarity, that we all relish. What illustrates this better than a shaving cream fight? Tonight’s twilight event proved it as more than 100 bottles of shaving cream were squirted, slathered and re-smeared all over the girls (those who chose to participate). Dressed in their swimsuits, the girls wasted no time emptying those cans, racing about slapping the slippery white foam all over each other. They would run to get away from a pursuing friend, slowing down just enough to be caught and splattered, laughing hysterically the entire time. We pulled out a sheet of plastic for a slip-n-slide too, which works beautifully when you are covered with shaving cream, by the way. No soap needed! It was another camp moment when the simplest thing elicited incredible happiness. The girls were having such full-out fun, they were beside themselves, falling down almost unable to get up, laughing so completely they were speechless.

It was an excellent day of adventure and silly fun, and of wonder and joy.

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Entertained and Inspired

With all the in-camp activities humming along here at Rockbrook, populating the daily online photo gallery, it’s easy to forget that there are daily adventure trips going out too. Girls can choose to go on a “wet and wild” hike through a stream, as the Hi-Ups did today for example. They can take their first kayaking trip on moving water like the Middlers did today on the French Broad river. Or, as another trip went out this morning, our rock climbers can spend the day climbing at Looking Glass Rock or Cedar Rock in the Pisgah Forest. You may not see as many photos of these activities in the gallery, but they have been going strong all week.

Camp adventure backpacking girlsA group of fourteen Middlers and Seniors had a memorable backpacking trip today. Led by Clyde, Jayne, A.M. and Savannah, the crew loaded two buses with packs, tents, cooking gear and food for the overnight and set out to the higher elevations north of the Blue Ridge Parkway. At the trailhead, they divided into two smaller groups to hike in different directions and ultimately to convene at a designated campsite for the night. This area near Flat Laurel Creek is littered with wild blueberry bushes, which are right now coming into season, so the girls enjoyed picking and eating the berries as they hiked. With their tents pitched and dinner wrapped up, Clyde led the girls up the steep trail to the top of Sam Knob mountain (elev. 6055ft) to watch the sunset. The amazing 360 degree view up there was just perfect for watching the sun dip through patchy clouds and ultimately behind the distant mountains.

The next morning the girls had a rare, fascinating encounter. While they were exploring a nearby waterfall and rocky overlook, a black bear raided their backpacks! The crew had finished eating breakfast and breaking down their campsite, and as they ventured further down Flat Laurel Creek to explore, they left their packs in a pile near the trail. This took about 45 minutes, but when they returned it was obvious that some animal had torn into the top of a couple of the packs and found a ziplock bag of trail mix.  Looking around, they spotted the bear nearby in the woods. It had dragged one of the backpacks away, but as Clyde yelled and waved his arms, the bear retreated from the pack and soon ran off. The girls were excited to see the bear and not frightened since it was clearly not menacing. Ordinarily, it’s the sunset hike that’s the highlight of this trip, but this time it was the bear.

Meanwhile back in camp, it was time for the circus! We announced a whole evening of circus-themed activity complete with costumes, fun music and games, and a professional acrobatics show by the NC troupe “Imagine Circus.”

circus camp counselor costumecamper circus costumeIt all started with the girls dressing in their best circus attire —scores of clowns and colorful performers —making dinner festive good fun. When suddenly a nine-foot tall (stilt walker) jester ducked into the dining hall to announce the acrobatics show in the gym, the girls seemed dumbfounded. Every eye in the dining hall followed this golden-winged jester as she strode among the girls answering their questions.

Just after dinner, during our twilight time, we further set the mood by serving cotton candy and popcorn, perfecting our circus costumes further, working on face paint, cracking glow sticks (more color!) and getting even more excited for the show.

And what an amazing show it was! Using a 25-foot tall, pyramid-shaped structure and other props, the performers, who were all female, impressed everyone with an array of aerial and ground acrobatics set to music. They hung in the air by silks, held unbelievable poses with suspended hoops, and showed incredible strength, coordination and balance jumping and flipping. Every trick seemed more amazing than the last, and the crowd showed its appreciation with louder and louder cheers as the show progressed. It was inspiring for the girls to watch these powerful women confidently perform such extremely difficult physical maneuvers.

circus acrobat showcircus camp fire performanceThe show’s finale included batons and hoops set on fire! As the performers danced and leapt about, swirling their flaming props in the dark, the campers applauded in a standing ovation. Entertained and inspired, they absolutely loved the whole show!

crazy summer camp costumes

Life on the Wild Side

“The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.”
–Joseph Campbell

One benefit of going to camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina is all of the adventures that await us in our own backyard! The outdoor staff at Rockbrook relish in the opportunities they get to introduce campers to all of the excitement that surrounds our camp. One hike has been particularly popular this year. It’s called the Wet ‘n’ Wild Hike. The adventure staff haven’t really explained it beyond that—they want to leave a lot of the surprise in it for girls who have not gone yet. Still, I have been pretty curious about it every time I hear it announced, so I decided to try to get the inside scoop from some of the campers who went on the hike today.

My anonymous source, a member of the elite outdoor staff, gave me the full story. For the sake of this post, we will call her Rita. This morning, Rita made a cryptic announcement that a Wet and Wild Hike would be happening. Murmurs filled the dining hall: campers had heard about this hike, but what would actually happen on it? After twelve lucky girls signed up, the trip was off! Rita co-piloted the van and tried to find tunes the girls would love to set the right mood for their hike. They drove into Pisgah National Forest and got out of the van at Cove Creek. The real adventure was to begin!

The hike begins with a walk through a few fields and campgrounds. At this point, the campers are somewhat confused because there is no water present. Eventually, they bump into the creek and the real adventure begins. There are tiny, rambling trails, and they walk through a confusing and twisted path until they hear the sound of a waterfall. They stand at the base of the waterfall, eating muffins and discussing waterfall safety. With at least 712 waterfalls in Transylvania County (the county Rockbrook is a part of), it seems most relevant to have this conversation. After the refreshments, the girls played with a baby skink, a lizard common in the area, and enjoyed playing in the waterfall.

After that, they voyaged back toward the van and the second part of their hike. They carefully crossed slippery rocks (Rita says they always make sure to note that “there is no shame in crab walking”) and they get on yet another side trail. The girls are elated to find that this leads to a miniature sliding rock—a natural rockface they can slide down! The girls enjoy the perfect day and slide until they are content. Rita says that, at this point, the hike “feels like Eden.” There is such simplicity in the hike, just girls purely playing outside!

The third part of the hike is Rita’s favorite. After hiking on another side trail, the girls arrive at potholes. After talking about how potholes form, Rita talked about how they couldn’t swim in it because it only went knee-deep. Then, Rita fell backwards! The girls were nervous for her, but she popped out of the water laughing. In fact, the potholes were about eight feet deep, so the girls enjoyed swimming and playing in them. On another pothole, water shoots the girls out into the deep part, and the girls took advantage of this many times.

Following such a full hike and pure bliss, it was time to scramble back up the hill and get back into the vans. The girls were told to keep the hike a secret, for the outdoor staff wanted the surprises to exist for everyone who has not yet gone on this hike. They were then treated to a feast of a lunch: homemade chicken soup, chips and salsa, and pineapple—what a perfect meal!

IMG_1375 Mini session seniors and middlers got to continue our Wet ‘n’ Wild adventures today for cabin day! After enjoying a delicious picnic dinner and playing a few rounds of “I’m a Rockbrook Girl,” a beloved game, we all got to go to Sliding Rock! Sliding Rock is a natural waterslide that is in Pisgah Forest. It’s sixty feet long, and girls start at the top before taking a wild ride down freezing cold water before plunging into a pool at the bottom. Counselors are standing at the top to help girls get settled and prevent slipping, and life guards are in the water at the bottom, throwing girls floating tubes and reeling them in! The girls can go two-by-two, so many choose to go with a friend or a counselor. Campers are given the choice of whether they want to slide or not, but we had a particularly excited group last night, and many chose to take the plunge! Some girls went as many as five times, and everyone had a perfect time!

After Sliding Rock, we all piled back in to heated vans (some of us were very cold after our adventure) and headed to Dolly’s for some well-deserved ice cream. Girls look forward all session to their trip to Dolly’s, a local dairy bar that offers special edition ice creams named for local camps. Some girls have a favorite flavor (Illahee is very popular, a combination of cookie dough and brownies, other girls love Rockbrook, an extremely chocolaty concoction), while others try to branch out and try all of the flavors. Every girl also got a sticker with the Dolly’s logo, which many put on their trunks and water bottles when we got back to camp. We all sat around in rocking chairs or at tables enjoying ice cream and singing our favorite Rockbrook songs. It was fun seeing the two lines together—girls got to interact across the ages and get to know other campers they are less likely to meet. We ended by singing both the Senior Line Song and the Middler Line Song before we heard a familiar, “Hey Rockbrook, this train is leaving the station!” at which point we got back in the vans and returned to camp, ready for bedtime after such an exhilarating day.

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Part of the beauty of our summers is that they give us the opportunity to get Wet ‘n’ Wild on a daily basis. We aren’t nearly as shy as we might otherwise be of “getting our hair wet” (literally and metaphorically) as we might usually be. Some girls are adventurous by nature. They jump in to wild adventures because they look fun. Others (and I might be in this category) are more reserved because they consider how cold they might be after, or how tired they might be because of a long hike, or how they could slip on a rock. Rockbrook has taught me to be more adventurous, though, because I have learned that when I say ‘yes’ to any adventure, I never have regrets. By the end of Sliding Rock, I wound up thoroughly chilled with a minorly stubbed toe. Yet these minor discomforts were discounted by the thrill of going down Sliding Rock with a good friend and being able to have a shared experience with the rest of the senior line.

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Rockbrook gives us the room to decide for ourselves when to leave our comfort zones, but I think we all do in our own way. Maybe we decide to go down Sliding Rock because our friends cheer for us and convince us that it will be worth being cold. Or maybe we go on a kayaking adventure that frightens us because we are just learning to be more confident about skills. We might try riding the bull on a whitewater raft even though we may fall out. It will happen for each girl in its own way, but I think living at Rockbrook makes every girl a little more in touch with her wild side.

Living It Up!

From the very moment we woke up this morning, girls have been savoring what they have been calling “the last normal day of camp.” With banquet tomorrow, and Spirit Fire on Wednesday, the end of first session seems to be rapidly approaching. Today feels normal, yet there is a certain urgency in the air to soak up the beauty and fun of camp before it comes to a close. The campers are reenergized after a restful Sunday and intent on living it up throughout the day.

You could see this attitude everywhere today. Many girls chose to go off camp on one of the many trips offered. Some girls went whitewater kayaking on the Upper Green River today, while others spent the day climbing at Cedar Rock. Brought back by high popularity, some middlers and seniors went on a “Wet and Wild” hike to Moore’s Cove, while other campers went to Dupont Forest to explore some of the best waterfalls in the area. Going to camp in Western North Carolina offers so many avenues for adventures, and it is wonderful that there are so many options to engage with the outdoors every day—and so many girls who are excited to go on the trips!

IMG_0362-1Many other girls stayed in camp and spent the day happily busy in their activities. In drama, the girls helped to paint the set for the upcoming play, The Lion King, and then spent time acting like some of the animals from the show. Girls love drama because they learn both hard skills such as set painting, auditioning techniques, and stage directions, but also soft skills like confidence, and feeling comfortable while acting silly in front of others. As I walked by the lake, I also came across the girls of curosty. In curosty, girls learn how to weave on looms and, on days like today, weave baskets. They sit with their toes in the creek on this beautiful day, chatting to each other while learning how to weave reeds and ultimately create a basket. This is a time-honored Rockbrook activity. In fact, our camp mom, Laura, mentioned to me how much she loved that her kids spend time in the very same creek weaving baskets like the ones she used to make and like the ones her grandmother used to make.

 In addition to the activities, Rockbrook girls stayed busy during their free swims today! The counselor-camper tennis tournament was in full force first free swim. I had the opportunity to play with a camper, and we had so much fun. Through good communication, a few days of practice, and a lot of laughter, we advanced to the final round. Though we did not win the final match, we were proud of our friends who did! As the matches went on, I was struck by the genuine sportswomanship and large amounts of fun that were had on the court. We took it seriously– everyone wanted to do well–but the atmosphere was light and unwaveringly supportive.

Many of those who were not playing tennis were seen swimming or running, both groups trying to complete their last requirements to go to Dolly’s. Rockbrook girls who complete a certain number of laps in the Rockbrook Lake become a part of the esteemed Mermaid Club. The whole camp sings a song in their honor! In the same vein, girls who participate in Rockbrook Runners and complete a certain number of miles (by walking or running), become a part of the Marathon Club. Both clubs are rewarded for their hard work and their many hours of free swims by going to Dolly’s ice cream. As we are approaching the end of camp, girls are buckling down and working hard toward achieving their goals. Girls ran and walked with Rockbrook Runners three different times today—first free swim, second free swim, and twilight! This means that girls who were especially motivated were able to run or walk six miles today!

IMG_0817In the same way that we are savoring the activities we have to do, I have also seen girls savoring the friendships that they have made. All day, I have seen girls busily finishing their friendship bracelets to give away to their friends, a piece of camp that travels with girls throughout the year. There has been much more intentionality to their togetherness: I have come across many clumps of girls just talking during free swims whereas they usually would write letters or read. As camp is ending, the girls’ focus has been on what has been the most important throughout their experience: the relationships they have formed with each other.

As the day wound down, we all gathered in our lodges for the final night of evening program: counselor impersonations! The girls look forward to this throughout the session, a chance to poke good-natured fun at the counselors. We all laughed until our stomachs hurt and exchanged many hugs and sweet words before having our final goodnight circle as a line. We sang taps, passed the friendship squeeze, and said the Rockbrook Prayer before it was time for milk and cookies. During goodnight circle, we expect a certain amount of peace and comfort, but with it was extra special tonight, as we were not taking any part of the day for granted. As some girls got in to bed, the gentle rattle of the wagon could be heard going down the Senior Line as the CA girls started to set up for banquet and some girls headed to the hill to do a bit of stargazing before bed.

So tomorrow, we will begin packing and for the next two days, we will celebrate our summers and say goodbye. But at Rockbrook, we have learned to live for today. And today was just a normal day at camp: a day well-lived.

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