Hilarious Delight

Girls Rafting Camp kids whitewater rafting trip

At Rockbrook, every girl who has completed the 5th grade or older (our “Middlers” and “Seniors”) can go whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River. For many years now, since the early 1980s, we simply ask the girls “Who wants to go rafting!?” There’s no extra charge, no pressure to go, and the girls decide for themselves if they are interested, but without a doubt, rafting has become the most popular outdoor adventure trip we offer. I’d say 95% of the girls old enough to go, do go, and go every year they come to camp. In this way, it’s become part of Rockbrook’s overall program. Rafting is popular, of course, because it’s really fun for the girls. They have an absolute blast rocking and bumping down the river, splashing and being splashed by the cold water, chatting a singing along the way, and laughing hysterically whenever someone falls out of the boat (which happens quite a bit… often intentionally, or at least partly so). Rockbrook is the only girls’ camp that has a US Forest service permit to raft the Nantahala, so we can use our own equipment and as guides, our own adventure staff as who are familiar to the girls. For us there’s no stranger in your boat, just someone you see around camp ordinarily, and that’s really nice for the girls. It was a beautiful, sunny, warm day on the river for all 57 people (plus our 6 guides) who took their trips today. The first rafting day of the summer was an excellent success.

If you don’t know about “Muffin Break,” let me describe it because it also has become an important feature of camp life at Rockbrook. It’s essentially a yummy surprise for the girls each morning provided by one of the bakers in the kitchen, a freshly-baked muffin served as a snack between the first and second activity periods (about 11am). The muffin flavors are different everyday, ranging from traditional varieties like chocolate chip and cinnamon crumble, but often have an added twist. For example, we’ve seen pumpkin chocolate chip, key lime pie, white chocolate strawberry, and even zucchini sprinkles. Today was another new flavor, maple pancake. The muffins were reminiscent of pancakes, and sure enough, included a drizzle of maple syrup on the top making them sweet and sticky, and fun to eat. The next time you send a letter or email to you daughter, you might ask her about the muffins and if she’s had a favorite flavor so far.

Spinning the wheel Camp Wheel spin

On the wall in the dining hall, right up front where everyone can see it, is something we call “The Wheel (of FUN!).” Somewhat like the game show “Wheel of Fortune,” our wheel spins and clicks around until stopping on a random section where we’ve indicated fun activities that the lucky spinner wins. You can see these prizes in the photo above, but they are designed for an entire cabin to enjoy and include things like “Rest Hour at the Lake,” “Polar Bear” (an early morning, before breakfast, jump in the lake), Dance Break (picking a song to blast during a meal where everyone stops to get up, sing and dance for a couple of minutes), and “Dress a Director,” for example. Though not every time, we often spin the wheel during the lunch announcements. Selecting which camper gets to spin the wheel is a big part of the fun. Chase hops on the mic and has everyone stand up, and then by announcing random qualities, narrows down the crowd. She might say, “Stay standing if you have your hair in a pony tail” and those without pony tails will sit down. Then, “Stay standing if you’ve made a friendship bracelet,” or “Stay standing if you have a brother.” As the excitement builds to almost explosive levels, this process continues until only one person remains standing, our wheel spinner. Today that person was Alden and her spin landed on “Pie a Counselor,” which to everyone’s hilarious delight (well, maybe not so much the counselor) happened after dinner.

Nickelodeon Egg toss gameSpeaking of dinner, tonight’s had a theme: Nickelodeon. The counselors set up the dining hall to play several Nickelodeon-inspired games throughout the meal. First, they surprised the girls by revealing that every chair had a colored “splat” hidden underneath, and that each color indicated they won a small prize, like a jump rope, silly putty, or crazy fidget sticks. The main event though was a game of musical chairs where the counselors roamed about while music (a Nickelodeon theme song, of course!) played, and sat down at a different cabin’s table then the music stopped. It was a fun way for the campers to get to know other counselors. For dessert, the kitchen made green “slime” glaze for each table to “slime” it’s own chocolate cake. A little messy and a lot of yummy. After dinner the games continued out on the hill. Again inspired by Nickelodeon, the girls tried an egg toss where they had to catch the egg in a pail taped to a helmet. Like the Nickelodeon game show “Double Dare,” other groups had a challenge to use only their feet to remove a banana from a tub filled with different types of canned food like cherry pie filling, jello, and sliced beets. I think you can understand why we held these games outside! Sure they were a little gross, but the girls loved playing like this— small physical challenges, silly costumes, messy consequences, with cheering each other all the while. It was one of those wonderful camp moments of full exuberance and laughter that is very difficult to find anywhere else.

Camp Archer Girl

Fun Just Like That

Girl Making Tie Dye ShirtHere’s a common question we hear at camp; “Can I tie dye my __________?” Tie dying is part of the Hodge Podge craft activity, and mostly we have white t-shirts available for the girls to dye, but this question has also been framed with answers like, “my shorts,” “my underwear” (of course!), “my socks,” “my backpack,” and even “my shoes!” We love that kind of creativity around here, so often the answer is “Maybe! Wanna try it?” The results could be described as “mixed,” but it’s certainly fun to experiment with the squeeze bottles of bright colorful fabric dye. When it comes to shirts, the results have been spectacular lately… chevrons, spirals, bullseyes, waves, smilies, and plenty of random patterns, all with great, vivid colors. Making a tie dye has a fun surprise built into the process too— when the t-shirt, or other garment, is untied and you get to see the cool pattern created from the dye being absorbed or resisted. One group of girls today looked particularly pleased at their untying. Look out for some fun new fashions heading home to you at the end of the session!

Summer Camp SwimmerThe Rockbrook lake continues to be a popular spot throughout the day. As so many other parts of the country are baking in the summer heat, we’ve been hitting high temperatures in the mid 80s. That’s not too hot for around here, but with the humidity, a dip in the lake has felt excellent. The girls have been hard at work swimming their “Mermaid Laps” (A certain number admits them into the “Mermaid Club.”). They been perfecting their silliest jumps from the diving board, and repeatedly zipping down “Big Samantha” our giant water slide. There has been some mischief underway too with a bunch of squirt toys, athletic skill shown using kick boards, and plenty of cooling off and relaxing in the inner tubes.  In addition to the regular four activity periods when the girls can sign up for swimming, the lake is open to everyone right before lunch and dinner for about an hour. I’d say with all of these options and opportunities, most everyone at camp is visiting the lake these days.

The great warm weather lately has also inspired us to offer the girls several waterfall and creek hikes. Right here on the camp property, the WHOA (Wilderness, Hiking, Outdoor Adventure) instructors have been bringing girls to Rockbrook Falls. It’s a nice set of small waterfalls that cascade down multiple levels into pools… perfect for a refreshing dip. For several Junior campers, the creek in the center of camp is a place to play, stack stones, and race sticks (or their shoes!) in the current.

Outdoor Swimming HoleA few miles south of camp, the Dupont State forest has magnificent high waterfalls like Triple Falls and Hooker Falls. In the Pisgah Forest, a group of Juniors visited Moore Cove to feel the spray of the waterfall there. And we’ll be heading to sliding rock tomorrow night for the ultimate waterfall experience.

Every year when we survey the campers about their favorite outdoor adventure activity, whitewater rafting wins the number one spot (Ziplining has become #2, by the way). That’s not too surprising when you consider how perfectly it combines several amazing things. First, just being outside is great, but when you have the natural beauty of the Nantahala Gorge, the steep rocky slopes rising on both sides of the river, it’s extraordinary. There are massive trees (poplar and hickory come to mind), thick rhododendron thickets, and flowering silk trees. There’s bound to be a King Fisher that swoops by chirping, and a sharp eye may spot a turtle or water snake hiding among the sticks and leaves of an eddy. Some of this probably slips right by most of the campers because the real focus is the crazy, bumpy ride in raft. The girls take turns “riding the bull,” which means sitting on the front of the raft with their legs dangling, an intrepid hood ornament that’s bound to get the biggest splash in the rapids. Falling out of the boat is part of the fun too… for that matter, so is falling into the boat unexpectedly after hitting a hidden rock. Let’s not forget the temperature of the water either: a frigid 50 degrees thanks to the majority of the water coming from the bottom of the deep Nantahala lake (as part of the Duke Energy hydroelectric project). Hitting that water, even when it’s sunny and hot outside, is a wide-eyed, breath-taking, shock, just as it’s an excellent thrill.  Add to that the fun that comes from singing and laughing with friends in the boat. For the two hour trip down the river, the girls are splashing each other, waving for photo opportunities, making “high fives” with their paddles, and doing “fire drills” to switch places in the boats. Yes, it’s outdoor adventure, but taken altogether, this is super fun too. Since we took almost half of the camp rafting on the Nantahala today, it was fun… just like that.

Rafting Celebration in a Rapid

A Friendly Fear

Last week, there was an open spot on a zip lining trip, and, since I have the greatest job in the world, I filled it. It was the first time I had been on our new, expanded zip line course, complete with three zip lines, one tight rope, and two rope bridges. I am not ashamed a bit to admit that my heart was beating double-time the whole time I was up there.

Keeping an Eye OutAnd I definitely was not alone in that sensation. Most of the girls that I was with had done the zip line before, and jumped out into thin air every time without a second thought. But hanging back in the back of the line with me was one brand new camper, whose eyes were just as wide as mine felt. She turned to me just before we got to the first zip line, and said, “I’ve never felt like this before.”

I asked her what she was feeling, and she listed out sweaty palms, dry mouth, beating heart—in short, she described fear. Here she was, far from home, standing high on a mountain, and she was feeling, for the first time in her life, fear. Now, she knew of course that she was wearing a harness, a helmet, and that she was hooked onto each line by two different tethers. She knew, intellectually, that she was safe. But that doesn’t stop the body’s natural reaction to the contemplation of jumping off a high rock face.

Suiting UpBut still, despite her fear, she jumped.

Most of our campers, thank goodness, lead relatively safe lives. They can go through whole days, weeks, and months without feeling the rush of adrenaline that comes along with fear, and this is certainly not a bad thing. Still, in our modern, comfortable world, it can be easy to forget the immense benefits of fear.

Let me clarify that by fear, I don’t mean the spine-tingling fear associated with horror movies or true danger. I mean that moment of breathlessness felt at the base of the Alpine Tower, looking up. I mean the bottom dropping out of your stomach when you’re about to go down the Nantahala Falls in a raft. I mean the way a heart can clench in nervousness when you’re stepping out of the car on Opening Day. I mean the way a tongue can tie itself up in knots when meeting new friends.

I mean the true discomfort of being utterly outside of your comfort zone.

Here at camp, we live outside of the comfort zone. We brush our teeth in sinks shaped like troughs, we live in cabins with screens instead of windows, we try new things each and every day that seem crazy and terrifying. We push ourselves, in a safe environment, to challenge ourselves, grow, and find new limits to our bravery.

Flying HighAnd yes, this can be scary. It can be terrifying. But it can also be a transformative experience. That fear can precede the moment in which a girl decides that she wants to spend the rest of her life paddling, rock climbing, or even just putting herself out there and trying new things. That fear can precede a moment of true growth.

My zip lining buddy grew that day. I knew it the moment she flung herself off onto the final zip line—the longest and fastest zip line. I heard her scream out in joy, and saw her smiling hugely as she went zooming away. She met me on the other side (after my own breathless ride), with her cheeks flushed, and her smile undiminished.

“That,” she told me, “was awesome.”

Adding Some Edge

Rafting Silly Kids Posing
About once a week we head over to the Nantahala River for whitewater rafting, like today, when two groups of Middlers and Seniors made the 2-hour run down the river. Being the only girls summer camp that has a permit to run these trips (The US Forest Service issued us the permit back in the early 1980s), we decided long ago to make rafting a big part of our adventure program. We don’t charge extra for the trips and we let everyone who’s old enough (Middlers and Seniors, in our case) sign up to go if they like. All of this has made rafting very popular with Rockbrook girls, with about 90% of them choosing to raft every summer. For many, it’s their favorite adventure trip out of camp. Rockbrook really is “that rafting camp,” as one person put it.

Last night we also gave the girls the option to spend the night at our outpost camp before their rafting trip. Over in Macon County and adjoining the Nantahala National Forest, Rockbrook acquired and improved this unique piece of property with camping shelters (simple screened, structures), a small bath house, and a dining hall where we can have our meals. It’s a great place, “out in the middle of nowhere,” literally “at the end of the road,” where we can enjoy camping only 15 minutes from the river. It’s a beautiful place too. We had a wonderful time together last night singing songs around the campfire, making s’mores, and listening to the nighttime calls of a nearby whippoorwill. I was impressed by how relaxed and happy all the girls were as they spent their time together on the overnight, particularly because the group was made up of a few teenagers as well as young girls who had just finished 5th grade. There wasn’t one person trying to be cool, or exclusive. Instead, they all happily hung out together, slept in the same shelter together, sang songs and laughed at each others jokes. This showed me that these girls really trust each other, and that despite their age differences, really like each other too. It was a remarkable expression of “Rockbrook Spirit” that would make you proud to witness.

Kid Zip LineZip Canopy Course BridgeThere is another adventure activity popular with the girls at camp— we run it almost everyday —and it’s unique because of Rockbrook’s topography: our zip line course. Instead of zips and bridges going from platform to platform suspended in trees like most zipline “canopy tours,” our 3 ziplines (2 of which are new this summer) and 3 bridges (2 new ones here too) are suspended between gigantic boulders. The cables are bolted directly into solid rock making them extraordinarily strong anchor points for each span. The first zip is especially cool; it begins high to the right of “Stick Biscuit Falls,” the 50-ft waterfall directly above the camp, and slowly passes you across the front the falls, about 80 feet in the air, as you slide along the cable to a rock face on the far side. The next 150-ft zip begins at another boulder and sends riders over a gulley below, filled with rhododendron and mountain laurel. From there the riders make their way across the 3 swinging bridges: a beam, cable, and platform bridge. The final zip is a screaming 450-ft ride all the way back to camp. It takes a group of eight campers about an hour to complete every thrill of the course.

Camp Kids Love MuffinsNight Zip Line KidsSpeaking of our zipline course, two groups of senior campers took their ziplining to a new level after dinner. They went at night! It’s true; staying up late, we used headlamps attached to our helmets, other flashlights and glow sticks to illuminate our way. Part night hike, part group dynamics initiative, and part edgy idea, the girls had a blast zipping through the dark, launching themselves into the night with just their headlamp for orientation. As we moved from point to point, the girls had a good sense that this was a little over the top, making it even more fun than they expected. A couple of them said to me, “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever done.” A small creative twist turned something already pretty cool, into the “coolest thing ever!”

The same thing happened this morning when the girls discovered that the Rockbrook baker had added some edge to today’s muffin flavor: “chocolate chip cookie dough.” You might be wondering how to make a “dough” muffin?  You first bake a chocolate chip muffin, but then serve it with a blob of cookie dough on top. An outrageous topping, I know, but also, oh so good. They really were something else. I heard from several girls, in fact, that this was their new favorite muffin flavor.

We’re off to a fantastic start of the session. With this many really wonderful girls at camp, it’s no surprise.

Camp Kids Hugging

A Book of Faces

Camp girls faces buddiesA Middler-aged camper asked me the other day, “Isn’t it hard to get Seniors to come to camp if they can’t have their phones?” I reminded her that all campers, no matter how old they are, and in fact the counselors too (except in the staff lounge), are not allowed to have a cellphone at camp, but I think I know what she meant. She knew, maybe from experience or observing older girls at home, that cellphone use is almost constant, that most of us, once we have a personal smartphone, tend to use it all the time… text messages, social media posts (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat!), telephone calls, and email. Once it’s in our pocket, the buzz of electronic notifications punctuates our daily experience. This perceptive young girl was suggesting that the allure of that buzz might be powerful enough to prevent girls from attending camp.

It’s a great question when you think about it, “Why are teenage girls willing, albeit reluctantly perhaps, to give up their phones for several weeks?” Would you be willing to do that? Think of all the news you would miss, and the people who couldn’t contact you! I suppose there are young girls out there who do not attend summer camp because they feel they simply can’t live without their phones, just as they might believe they can’t do without their mother’s home-cooked meals or an air-conditioned private bedroom, but there are hundreds of girls who do make that sacrifice. Here’s why. I believe it’s because they, perhaps unconsciously, know being at camp is much better than whatever their cellphones (and other electronic forms of entertainment) provide. The sacrifice is “worth it.” Their community of Rockbrook friends provides a book of faces far superior to Facebook. The daily flood of enthusiasm for creativity, adventure, and outdoor action outshines every Instagram image. The camp songs, the heartfelt conversations, the nightly “Highs, Lows and Funnies” in the cabins, the cheers and support from everyone around you arrive faster than you can type 140-character tweets. A girl could snap, and pin, and “like,” and “share,” all day long and she wouldn’t come close to feeling the authentic joy camp provides. Without flickering intermediaries, camp is real life, fully lived with real people, expressing real emotions. It’s a life too easily forgotten while staring at a screen, but for those girls willing to trust themselves and find the confidence to engage those around them, camp is also a really good life. Some claim it can’t be beat! …completely phone-free.

Whitewater Rafting CampSliding Rock smiling girlsFor about a fourth of the camp, today’s adventures included whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River. With our second group of July Mini session girls eager to raft and a few of the full session campers who had not yet gone, we put together two multi-raft trips, one that began the night before with camping at our outpost property located near the river in Swain County, and the other that ran in the afternoon following a picnic lunch at the water’s edge. The morning trip saw a little extra excitement as a passing thunderstorm forced the crew off the river for a few minutes. Fortunately, we had a warm, dry bus (It was trailing the trip on the road paralleling the river.) ready nearby where we could all take shelter during the storm. When the coast was clear, the rafts were off again to finish paddling the river.

Rafting for Rockbrook girls is big fun. It’s a nice combination of high adrenaline adventure (wearing cool gear!), lighthearted silliness with your friends in the raft, and hilarity as each bumpy rapid and splash of the frigid water (53 degrees!) erupts wild screams of delight. It’s even better when someone unexpectedly falls out of the boat and everyone, while laughing of course, scrambles to pull her back in. Rafting is also a chance for the girls to chat and sing with each other as they paddle, posing for photos and greeting everyone passing by in other boats and onshore. You can imagine how this much exuberance gets people’s attention, and since we’re the only girls camp authorized to raft the Nantahala (We’ve had a USFS permit since the early 1980s), it’s not uncommon for us to hear, “That’s the rafting camp.”

When it comes to having a full camp day, our mini session Senior campers know how to do it! For them, following today’s rafting, we ate a quick pizza dinner, and then turned right around for an evening trip to Sliding Rock. It was fantastic. We arrived just after another rainstorm so we had the rock all to ourselves. The girls had a blast sliding down the 60-foot natural water slide to the pool at the bottom, often with hands in the air and screaming all the way down. Everyone slid as many times as they wanted, until as it was getting dark, we loaded up the vans for a short ride to Dolly’s Dairy Bar. A cup or a cone of “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion” or another flavor was the perfect way to top off the evening. Back at camp about 10pm, the girls took no time heading straight to bed. It’s been another full— definitely great— camp day.

Ice Cream Camp Girls

Loud and Lively

Teenager girls choresFresh baked muffinsThe “Hi-Ups” are our 16-year-old, 10th graders at camp. They live together in a special two-story cabin “high above” (hence their name) the camp in the woods behind the dining hall. This cabin, in addition to having a bright front porch with a clear view of the final zip line in our Zip Course, is rumored to have secret amenities these oldest campers enjoy. For example, according to some junior campers, the Hi-Ups have a flat screen TV and a Jacuzzi in their cabin… Wink, wink 😉 The Hi-Ups are essentially in charge of the dining hall. They arrive before each meal to set all the tables. They serve the large bowls and platters of food, fill drink pitchers, distributing what each table (cabin of girls) needs for every meal. Then, when everyone is done eating and the announcements have wrapped up, the real work begins— cleaning the dining hall. That means racking up the dishes for the CIT dishwashers, wiping down tables, sweeping the floor, and emptying all the trash cans. You can imagine, with almost 280 people eating, this is quite a chore. It helps to have many Hi-Ups, like the group of 15 this session, but in any case there is work to be done. And this group is doing that work superbly. With a little Taylor Swift playing in the background, they are cheerfully tackling these chores 3 times a day. You’d be proud if you saw them.

Another Hi-Up responsibility is distributing the muffins during our morning “muffin break.” The kitchen crew bakes up a surprise flavor of muffin each morning in time to give everyone a warm, soft, usually quite sweet, treat between the 1st and 2nd activity periods (around 10:45). The Hi-Ups grab the trays of muffins, and hand them out to the other campers trough a screened window slid open on the end of the dining hall porch. Today we enjoyed pumpkin muffins, and the day before that classic chocolate chip. When you write your girls at camp (sent an email lately?), ask them what their favorite muffin flavor is so far. I bet the word “chocolate” will be in their answer!

Girl Loading a GunCamp Quilting ProjectThe second day of activities moved everyone about the camp today being creative, active and adventurous along the way. In pottery, a few girls were trying their hand on the potter’s wheel while others were pressing lace into slabs of clay to make decorative tiles. The jewelry making activity was introducing beads and multi-strand friendship bracelets, while in Curosty, tabletop and floor looms clicked away. A group of juniors sat in the sun by the creek weaving baskets just as other girls worked on watercolors with the counselors teaching painting in Hobby Nook. We heard the pop of .22 caliber rifles from below at the riflery range and the “thunk” of arrows finding their targets at the archery activity area. Girls were learning back flips in Gymnastics, and cross-court volleys in tennis, playing ga-ga ball and later a huge game of kickball on the landsports field. Climbers were “on belay” climbing the Alpine Tower and Castle Rock high above camp, while 2 groups of girls made their way through the RBC Zip Line course (which has 3 zips through the woods and 3 different bridges connecting start and end points). The kayakers and canoers were busy learning strokes on the lake, as other girls practiced their cannonballs off the diving board.

Rafting crazy RapidSuper Costume at Summer CampMeanwhile, 64 campers took rafting trips today down the Nantahala River in Swain County. We offer these trips to all the Middler and Senior campers (Junior campers are too small according to our Forest Service permit) and generally about 95% of them sign up. The trip is that fun! The first group of 5 rafts spent the night camping at our nearby RBC outpost, waking up and arriving at the river to meet our veteran guides at the river’s put-in. The weather was a little misty starting out, so we suited up all the girls in blue spray jackets for extra warmth. After smashing through the rapids “Patton’s Run,” “Pyramid Rock,” and “Delbar’s Rock,” the sun poked out and it felt great. The Nantahala is a nice beginner’s whitewater river providing a balance between easy, calm sections and rapids that build as you go. In this way, the whole trip alternates between singing camp songs while floating along and screaming your head off through the bumps and spray of the larger rapids. The sun stayed out for the afternoon trip, and we were all back at camp in time for dinner.

For a special dinner too, because tonight was Birthday Night! And even better, it was Super Hero Birthday Night! So out came the costumes… Batman, superman, spiderman (their female versions of course). We saw Captain America, Wonder Woman, Dumbledore from Harry Potter, and many, many spontaneous, highly imaginative, super girls. All over the dining hall, as everyone sat according to their birth month, there were exclamations of “Pow!” “Bam!” and “Whamo!” Mixing the cabins and age groups like this was a fun way to both celebrate everyone’s birthday and enjoy 12 different homemade birthday cakes that the Hi-Ups decorated earlier today. We must have sung “Happy Birthday” or shouted it out 30 or more times! Still, it was a silly, loud and lively, meal made even more fun by all the great girls being together and enjoying it.

Tennis Camp Girls

In and On the Water

Morning Outdoor Pancake PicnicWhen the camp bell rings at 8am each morning, when it’s typically cool and foggy making everything a little grey and moist outside, there’s rarely anyone out on the hill in the center of camp. That was true this morning too, except several staff members were quietly scurrying around to set something up in all three of the stone lodges. They had folding tables, stacks of plates, bowls of fruit, chocolate, maple and caramel syrup, whipped cream, and colorful sprinkles. They were clearly up to something, excited about the unannounced treat they had in store for the campers. The best clue explaining all this was the griddles, spatulas and huge bowls of pancake batter they finally carried out from the kitchen. It was “Pancakes and PJs,” a surprise breakfast cooked and served in the lodges, and enjoyed by everyone while sitting outside in one of the red porch rockers or on the hill in crazy creek chairs. With sausage and fruit on the side, the girls loaded up their pancakes with sweet toppings, and spilled out everywhere to chat in small groups and watch the sun break through the fog. Something completely new and different, it was a delightful way to wake up and start the day.

Girls with the feet in a streamCamp Water Slide FunIt’s always easy to play in the water at Rockbrook. First of all, the lake itself  provides a place to cool off, take a swim, ride the water slide, or just float in a tube. But my favorite way the girls play in the water here is by exploring, often during their free time, one of the many streams cutting down from the hills above the camp. One of these, near the Curosty cabin, flows along a grassy bank making it a perfect place to soak your feet (even when wearing long pants!), float and race your flip flop shoes, keep reeds wet when weaving a basket, or hone your Hydraulic Engineering skills by building a dam from rocks, sticks, bark and mud (Fortunately, these dams are never completely watertight!). The other, which passes in front of the Goodwill cabin, flows over and around several large rocks making it a thriving habitat for stream creatures like crayfish, salamanders, and water striders. It’s great fun for the girls to wade into this stream, paper cup in hand, and inevitably scoop up something interesting, and wiggly. Standing on one of the big rocks in this stream, a camper exclaimed, “This is the most beautiful place on earth!” At one level, I think she’s right. It’s certainly a place full of wonderful plants and animals ready to discover.

Camp French Broad FloatCamp Nantahala FloatCamp Girls Nantahala CelebrationIt’s also easy to play on the water at Rockbrook. This is because throughout the week we offer optional canoe, kayak and rafting trips on many of the local rivers. After the girls learn their basic strokes on our lake, they can sign up for these trips. For example today, Emily led a group of 6 canoes on a leisurely float down a section of the French Broad River near camp. This river is wide and lined with trees in this section. The water moves along gently making it a very relaxing paddle. Meanwhile, further west in the mountains, a group of Middlers and Seniors were spending the day whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River. Some of these girls spent the night at our outpost camp, while others came just for the day to raft. Clean and very cold, the Nantahala River provides a great whitewater workout… of muscles paddling and bouncing over the rapids, and of vocal chords screaming with delight to every bump. It’s a thrilling adventure for the girls.

Our silly side came out after dinner tonight when the Middlers presented an all-girl “Prom” for our twilight activity. Essentially a dance party, the girls dressed up and came down to the gym to dance and sing to their favorite “girl power songs.” The posters decorating the walls reminded us of famous strong women (e.g., Jane Goodall) and “girls’ bands, like Taylor Swift. The dancing was lighthearted and carefree, free of criticism, competition and posturing. It was both fun and funny, partly because Rockbrook is simply a friendly supportive place, but also I think because there were no boys around. This all-girl, “no boys allowed,” environment, one that eliminates the powerful gaze of the opposite sex, allows our campers to loosen up a bit and enjoy themselves as they truly are— friendly, sensitive, caring young ladies. Without concern for what “the boys might think,” girls, particularly teenage girls, thrive, becoming more confident and self-assured as they develop positive relationships with those around them. At camp, this translates to simply having a great time with your friends. I think everyone here would agree; camp should not be about boys. Instead, it’s about us— living together in this beautiful place, growing closer as we share all these special experiences, and celebrating the fun of it all.

All Girls No Boys Dancing

Immersed in the Unfamiliar

Glancing through our online photo gallery today, you may have noticed that the girls are all wearing long sleeves. It might be a t-shirt or a sweatshirt, or likely a Rockbrook fleece, but all morning long we needed to bundle up a bit because it didn’t feel much like summer around here. It was more like the fall with the low temperature of 54 degrees when we woke up at 8am this morning. While odd for us in late July, this kind of cool, low humidity weather makes everything sparkle at camp. Waking up under warm covers in our open-air cabins, adding a layer of fleece while clicking the floor loom in Curosty, and biting into the fresh mint chocolate chip muffin, all felt especially good this morning. Up above was the deepest blue sky, not a single cloud anywhere, and the sun felt instantly warm when you stepped out of the shade, even as it warmed to about 75 degrees in the afternoon. Summer in the mountains can bring the most surprising and wonderful weather.

Whitewater Paddle and Helmet Arrow nocked and pulled Clay-covered kids hand doing pottery

Yesterday, Bentley wrote about how camp has helped her daughters (and herself) gain social confidence when meeting new people or encountering unfamiliar social settings. She saw attending a sleepaway summer camp a perfect setting to develop that skill because, after all, it’s inevitable you’ll be doing unfamiliar things and meeting new people at camp— the girls in your cabin, in your wheel-thrown ceramics class, or in your whitewater raft on the Nantahala River. Everyday, there’s someone new to meet and something new to do and experience. (“Did you try that pineapple salsa at lunch today?”) From this angle, camp life means immersing kids in the unfamiliar— experiencing first-hand strange food like homemade ginger coleslaw, odd weather like this morning, quirky people like that counselor from out west, challenging activities like aiming a real gun, alien creatures like those HUGE wolf spiders occasionally found in the shower, and so forth. While camp is providing girls new experiences and offering a range of fun activities to try, it’s more importantly pushing them beyond what they know, confronting them with the exotic. Camp life happily leaps right out of every “comfort zone,” and in this way, is intentionally un-comfortable.

Riflery Ready Girl at CampAnd that’s a good thing! Obviously, we don’t want camp to imitate the comforts of home. Many of the benefits of camp life spring from those differences— unplugging from technology, being active outdoors, and managing everyday decisions, for example. Personal growth, learning of the most profound kind, requires a little shaking up and a surprise now and then. We want our kids to have these novel experiences because they are unfamiliar and because they challenge them to grow more competent. For this reason it would be a mistake to insist we make everything “easy” at camp, for example to make sure the lake isn’t too cold or that she already know everyone in her cabin. As parents, we often spend our time helping our children be comfortable, keeping them happy, and providing everything we can to smooth their path, but that’s the paradox of camp. It’s both uncomfortable and fun. It makes our girls happy while safely challenging them. Camp is as joyful as it is unfamiliar.

What makes this paradox possible at Rockbrook is our camp culture. It’s our emphasis on community, and the values that support it like kindness, caring and generosity. We all know that everyone here (counselors and campers alike) will be quick to support our efforts and is more inclined to cooperate than compete. Enthusiasm and encouragement bubble up everywhere at Rockbrook strengthening our courage to let our true selves blossom. We celebrate silliness, creativity, and costumes! We love singing, dancing, playing, and doing almost everything together. In this kind of community, what’s unfamiliar becomes part of the fun, and what’s at first a challenge becomes another opportunity to experience something new regardless of the outcome. What makes camp “fun” is another whole topic to consider, but I think the Rockbrook camp community is a big part of it.

Zoo Costume GirlsFor about half of the camp, almost all of the Middlers and Seniors, today included a whitewater rafting trip down the Nantahala River. We ran 2 large trips, using our own equipment and guides: one in the morning and a second in the afternoon. Perfect sunny weather added to the excitement of rapids like “Delbar’s Rock,” “Whirlpool,” “The Bump,” and of course the “Nantahala Falls.”  These are high-pitched trips, partly from the rapids but equally from the icy cold water splashing about. It was a great afternoon of whitewater adventure.

When we all arrived back at camp, a special jungle/animal themed dinner called “A Night at the Zoo” was ready to begin. We had just enough time to race back to the cabin to throw together an animal costume. Maybe that meant simply wearing a squid hat, or painting a few whiskers on your cheeks, but there was also a giraffe and several tigers in the dining hall too.  Jungle-themed decorations and posters on the walls helped set the mood, while the girls had a great time singing animal songs (e.g., “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”) and dancing to a few related pop songs (like “Roar” for example). We gobbled up pizza and salad, and finished with chocolate chip cookie dough for dessert, making the whole dinner a special event.

Rafting Rapid Splash