Equally Full

camp-weaving-instructorOur first full day of camp began this morning with every activity area ready to launch into action. A full breakfast of orange juice, fresh fruit, oatmeal, granola and yogurt got us started, and the morning assemblies (held in each age groups stone lodge) of up-beat camp songs set the tone for an equally full day.

The other day, after being asked, I counted up the number of buildings at Rockbrook. Including all of the camper cabins (25), activity buildings, staff housing and support buildings, there are 53 different structures at camp. That’s a lot of roofs! And today every one of them was being used for the jam-packed life that we enjoy at camp.

Eight different places were home to creative craft projects. Weaving colorful yarns on the looms in Curosty with Nancy, pinching and rolling clay in one of the pottery studios, tying friendship bracelets, dripping dye on t-shirts, making layers of paper collages, brushing on watercolor paints, embroidering small swatches of fabric— the girls began many, many art projects.

rifle-girl-shooterSports too! The girls shot rifles and bows with .22 caliber bullets and arrows hitting their targets. They balanced on the beam after stretching in the gymnastics area of the gym. All three tennis courts saw various tennis drills and short games. The gaga ball pit also was stirred up by game after game, with girls jumping and swatting as the ball bounced in their direction. Of course the lake, which (next to the dining hall!) is probably the most popular place in camp, was humming with fun as the girls flew down the water slide, performed tricks off the diving board, and just played around on different floating toys. As the weather cleared up throughout the day, the lake seemed to become even more popular.

tennis-camp-girl-playergirls-camp-kayaking-instructionThe first riding lessons also took place today, with the girls who wanted to ride meeting new horses during one of the 4 activity periods. There were riders in every ring just about all day long. The outdoor adventure staff offered climbing on the Alpine tower, trips through the zip line course, a hike to Rockbrook Falls, and opportunities to learn the basics of whitewater kayaking down at the lake. Ellie and Jamie, our dynamic kayaking instruction duo, enticed dozens of girls to try out the cool new whitewater kayaks added to the Rockbrook fleet this summer.

Rick’s famous “cheesy bread” and homemade vegetable tomato soup, Becky’s fresh “Confetti” muffins, and chocolate chip cookies and milk before bed, were all top-10 foods popular from last summer that we enjoyed today as well.

With all of our activity areas cranking, familiar camp foods, a chance to spin the wheel in the dining hall (more about that later!), hula hooping on the hill during twilight, and evening program featuring silly, hilarious skits performed by each cabin group in their line’s lodges, it felt good to have a full day at camp. Everyone seemed happy, energized and settled in, which proves it doesn’t take long for girls to feel comfortable and at home here. It would make you smile to see it.

muffin-break-girls

Drastically Different

Camp girl sitting by a creekDuring another tour this week, I was struck how the setting at Rockbook is in many ways extreme. It’s so drastically different from the straight lines, smooth surfaces and pure tones of the outside, “civilized” world. Around here, the complex forces of nature, the curls and swirls of natural beauty, shape us and provide so many wonderful— wonder-filled —experiences… slabs of grey granite jutting from the ground at odd angles, clear streams sparkling in the sunshine, ancient trees too large to hug, tiny insects busy scavenging the ground, shaded by fractal-shaped ferns. Rockbrook has this organic feeling, and it’s something we cherish and foster. Rather than level every stepping stone, trim back each encroaching rhododendron branch, or eradicate all of the spiders that might wander into the showers, we want life at Rockbrook to include the natural world (at least a healthy, regular dose). It’s a priority that informs a great deal of what we do.

Camp is simply outdoor living. It’s a life immersed in, rather than shielded completely from, the weather. It’s a daily encounter with unfamiliar (and happy, given all the rain we’ve been having this summer!) plants. Tiny critters cross our path all the time. It’s a life that weaves mysterious forest sounds with the constant rush of water coming down the mountain. Camp means having a flashlight ready when it starts to get dark, belting a wide-eyed scream after jumping in our very unheated lake, and ultimately getting a little grubby most days… Perhaps I should say “extremely grubby,” in many cases. After all, these are enthusiastic children playing outside, and they’re not holding back. If you can imagine your girls living outside for this many days, probably not caring too much about how wet and grimy their clothes become, you might be extra cautious when you open their trunks back home! Fighting “Nature Deficit Disorder” like this, is just bound to be messy.

Camp horseback riding lesson for girlsHmmm… Maybe by insisting that our kids always be perfectly clean and starched, we are contributing to this deficit, compounding the negative effects associated with it.

The equestrian staff has been celebrating the recent stretch of dry weather we’ve all been enjoying. It’s been an extraordinarily wet summer this year, and that has been frustrating our riding program because when our fields are wet and muddy, they become too slippery to ride safely. Now, we are finally teaching mounted lessons all day long, helping girls learn the basics of horsemanship, and progressing to more advanced skills when they are ready. I think everyone —staff members, campers and horses alike— are happy to be busy riding.

Camp girls ready to go backpackingChristina, one of our fantastic Adventure Trip Leaders, led a group of girls backpacking and camping at a spot known by some as the “Enchanted Forest.” This truly is a magical place to camp. Tucked a couple of miles into the Pisgah National Forest, a large stand of White Pine trees lines both side of the trail as it follows a small stream. Decades worth of brown pine needles cover the ground with ferns and other clubmosses providing green accents. After packing in their tents, food and water, the girls spent a wonderful night in the forest— roasting marshmallows around their campfire, goofing around and chatting late into the night, and feeling a morning chill the next day.

Camp girls ready for whitewater actionAll of the mini session Middlers and Seniors who wanted to go whitewater rafting took their trip today. With a few remaining full sessions girls joining them, this turned out to be 55 campers. About half of those elected to spend the night beforehand at our Nantahala outpost property in Swain County. This is another chance to be outside and enjoy a campfire, complete with s’mores of course, before bed. The girls had a grand time singing songs, taking turns telling jokes, all while staring hypnotically at the flickering fire. Around 9am we met our veteran rafting guides and all of the RBC gear at the river’s put-in, and after suiting up and hearing the guides’ safety instructions, the rafting hit the water under glorious, bright sunshine. For the next two hours, it was a wild ride filled with laughing and squeals of delight with every crashing wave of the rapids.  This last photo was taken at the final big rapid called the “Nantahala Falls” and as you can see, it’s a great one. After a good sized hole at the top, all of the river channels in a Class III drop producing this kind of splash. It never fails to get everyone’s heart pumping, and once safely at the bottom, a smile on their faces.

Kids whitewater rafting on the Nantahala river

Rockbrook’s Harvestmen

Daddy Long Legs SpiderProbably the most common arachnid (the class that includes spiders) you see around Rockbrook is this little guy. You probably recognize him as a “Daddy Long legs Spider.” And you’ve also probably heard that they are the “most poisonous spider in the world,” but (luckily!) they are not dangerous because their “fangs are too small and short to bite through people’s skin.” With that kind of reputation, this is definitely a little scary no matter what.

The problem is; it’s not true. Also known as Harvestmen, these little guys do not in fact have fangs or any venom at all. It is true their mouth parts are quite small, so they can’t bite you. Overall, they’re totally harmless. They also don’t spin webs because they lack silk producing glands. It fact, technically speaking they aren’t even spiders! They do have eight legs and are in the same biological class as spiders, but are in a different order. It’s just a big misconception that seems to be repeated every summer at camp.

There are more than 100 species of Harvestmen in North America, and they are particularly common in rich deciduous forests (like Rockbrook!) where there are lots of other small insects, fungi, and plant matter they like to eat. When you’re at camp this summer, keep an eye out for these fascinating, and harmless, forest critters.

Healthy Kids Get Outdoors

Canoe kid in the water with canoe outdoorsThere’s a new bill introduced in the US Senate that authorizes “the Secretary of the Interior to carry out [state and local] programs and activities that connect Americans, especially children, youth, and families, with the outdoors.” It’s called the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act of 2011 and was introduced by Senator Mark Udall of Colorado, and co-sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin.

Prompting this legislation is a growing concern that American children are increasingly sedentary, spending most of their time indoors, and overweight. A wide range of studies show our kids are addicted to electronic media, watching on average 7.5 hours per day. Obesity and its related health problems are closely related to this. And now, seeing that kids are spending on average less than 10 minutes a day in unstructured outdoor play, an alarming trend is appearing. There’s even some worry that an unhealthy American population would be a national security threat given how many overweight people would be disqualified from military service.

The Healthy Kids Outdoors Act would combat these trends by funding state and local organizations in their efforts to get kids outdoors, to encourage active outdoor experiences. Here too, studies show outdoor activity yielding incredible public health, local economic and national conservation benefits. Seeking these benefits, this legislation would provide up to $15 million dollars of matching funds to sponsor programs and infrastructure that effectively connect Americans, especially kids, with outdoor experiences.

Of course, we are cheering this legislation! At an outdoor summer camp like Rockbrook, we know and celebrate the wonders of outdoor experience everyday. We spend most of our time (not just 10 minutes!) outside, actively engaged in dozens of activities.

At camp, we know all about the benefits to kids of outdoor activity. It’s nice to see those same benefits being championed nationally.

Children and Nature

Girls hands holding leaves in nature

We’ve talked about Richard Louv before, here and here, but I just found this video of him discussing the importance of nature for children.  It’s a short introduction to Louv’s notion of “Nature Deficit Disorder.”  Check it out!