Sensational Living

camp girls emerging from water slide

Many of the inventions of modern society are made, in part, to shield us from the natural sensory experiences of the world. Our climate-controlled homes keep us from having to bundle up on a particularly chilly morning, our insulated cars keep us from experiencing the smells (good and bad) of the city as we commute to work, our many electronic screens train our eyes to stay focused on them, so we end up hardly seeing what happens right in front of us. A hot meal is delivered to us by the click of a button on an app, our headphones keep us from having to engage with others on a crowded elevator. We are “comfortable.”

These inventions are not, on their face, bad. Many have incredible value when it comes to meeting basic needs in an increasingly stressful world where our time is at a premium. And, of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking advantage of some of the luxuries available when you want them. However, as they slowly but surely become accepted as the new normal in our society, the gap between ourselves and the natural world to which we belong also inevitably widens.

catching tadpoles at summer camp

At camp, as we intentionally move away from many of the comforts we may take for granted in our lives at home, we begin to gain a new awareness for our senses. Colors quite literally appear brighter and more vivid once our eyes adjust to life without a flickering screen two feet from our faces half the day. Uneven terrain starts to feel comfortable and familiar under our feet after we trek up and down the Rockbrook hill enough times. Dolly’s Ice Cream starts to take on a whole new taste….. well, who are we kidding? Dolly’s always tastes amazing!

Admittedly, even at Rockbrook today we have more modern comforts in place than our great-grandmothers did in 1921. (Nowhere can this be seen more clearly the look on a camper’s face who has just stepped in to the air-conditioned office to ask a question). But, in a world increasingly committed to sanitizing and streamlining our existence for the sake of convenience and efficiency, camp gets us back in touch with the physical world and reminds us of our innate connection to it. Instead of grabbing a bite “because it’s lunchtime,” lunchtime happens because we’re genuinely hungry and ready to eat. Instead of going to sleep “because it’s bedtime,” by the end of the day we’ve used all our energy and are ready to rest. This re-framing allows for a more authentic connection and understanding of ourselves and our place in the world.

Our senses can be the source of many of our greatest discomforts, but also our greatest pleasures. If you aren’t willing to catch a whiff of a skunk every once and a while, you may never get to inhale that first whiff of campfire smoke or fresh mountain air on top of Castle Rock. In our opinion, it’s a trade-off well worth making.

—Alyssa Calloway

barn camp girls

Absolutely Grand

When it gets hot outside, Rockbrook girls go to the water. It’s rare around here that the high temperatures reach above 90 degrees. It helps that being in the mountains keeps things cooler at night, and Rockbrook is tucked into a forested, west-facing slope giving it plenty of shade most of the morning, but there are always a few summer days, like today, when temperatures can climb. Fortunately at camp, we have plenty of ways to stay cool by taking a dip, splashing around, and otherwise getting wet.

Girls Laughing in whitewater raft
Girl Power Rafting
happy girl camp rafting

For example, the different creeks flowing through camp become water-park playgrounds for the girls during their free time periods. Above Curosty, the fiber arts cabin, you’ll find campers standing in the water— even sitting sometimes! —arranging small stones, floating their flip-flop shoes, and just enjoying the moving water headed to the lake. In front of Goodwill, the paper crafts cabin, the stream has more moss, larger stones to turn over and reveal small insects and other creatures —salamanders! crayfish! Armed with a small paper cup, girls are happily exploring, on the hunt for something of wonder.

Of course, the lake is the best place to cool off at camp. The diving board, 50-foot water slide, and variety of floating toys make it a fun and inviting place. Plus it’s always highly social, with groups swimming laps, playing “categories,” or lounging together in the water. As you might expect, the swimming and boating activities, plus the two free swim periods, have been extra popular with this sort of weather.

About 70 campers chose to experience the ultimate cooling adventure today over in Swain county, a whitewater rafting trip down the Nantahala River. Two buses of girls spent the night beforehand at our outpost camp that adjoins the National Forest. After a quick dinner, the girls sang songs around the campfire and topped off their evening by roasting marshmallows for s-mores. The next day, all the other girls met our Rockbrook adventure guides to take the two-hour trip down the Nantahala River. This is such a fun time for the girls. Take a look at the photo gallery (or click these rafting photos) to see their hilarious laughter, wide-eyed moments of foreboding, and cheerful screams through the rapids. In the bright sunshine, the layer of cool air hovering over the cold, cold river water, felt really good today. It was an ideal day of rafting.

Finally, there was a fun surprise for the girls announced during dinner. The whole camp would have a “counselor hunt!” This is a giant, whole-camp version of hide and seek where all the counselors disappear into hiding places all over the camp, and each cabin group together searches. Each counselor was worth a secret number of points (some positive and some negative!) so that after the 45 minutes of searching, the tally would also be a surprise. The camp bell signaled the start and finish of the hunt, and the winning cabin received a sweet treat from the kitchen.

It’s only been a few days, and already this session of camp is absolutely grand. So many friendly girls and enthusiastic counselors, with all the great activities happening, are blending to fill our excellent days.

Girls Camp Friends

Sunny Days at the Lake

Our beautiful haven in the “Heart of the Wooded Mountain” has had a beautiful past couple of days. Blue skies and heat from the sun calls for a busy day at the lake. In addition to their regular activity time, there are two times a day when the girls have “free swim” periods available for them to take a dip: one before lunch and one before supper. They can also spend this hour in other ways. They may choose to play in the creek, visit the camp store, or finish up a craft in an activity area, for example.

swimming campers

On these sunny days we tend to see a trend here at camp. As soon as the bell rings at the end of second or fourth period, girls hike up the hill to their cabin, change into their swim suits, and soon you see them trickle down the hill to the lake with towels in hand. When the girls arrive to the lake, they form a line waiting excitedly to be the first ones in as soon as the lake opens. Lifeguards and lookouts take their places, the red flag is removed, the front chain is taken down, and finally the lake is open. In order to keep our lake as safe as possible, a counselor takes names at the front of the lake keeping count of everyone entering and exiting the lake. Once names are on the list, towels and shoes are left on an amazing, beautiful rock, swim tags are moved, and the girls have to decide how they want to enter the water.

The Rockbrook lake was built in two phases, the initial “pool” when the camp was founded in 1921, and then in 1925 expanded to its current size. It had to be dug by hand (!), with horses dragging pans of dirt out to form its shape between the giant rocks. We’re not sure how intentionally, but it was constructed into the shape of our mascot – a cardinal! Our lake is filled with refreshing stream water drawn right off the mountain. Because of the mountain water, the temperature of the lake can be a little chilly, or as we like to say “refreshing.”

jump from dock into lake

When the girls step up to the lake, they wonder how refreshing it will be that day. Some brave it by doing a cannonball off of the diving board, others take it slow and walk their way into the shallow end, and lastly you have a special few who decide to enter via our super fun waterslide. Many girls like jumping into the lake after spending time in the heat “because they like the refreshing water and when they get out they feel energized and happy.”

Once in the water, there are several activities for the girls. One popular attraction is the shallow end along the lap lane where girls swim their mermaid laps. For each session and line there are a certain number of laps needed to swim by the end of the session in order to become a mermaid. Once you become a mermaid, all of camp congratulates you by singing The Mermaid Song to you during a meal. Mermaids also get to go to Dolly’s Dairy Bar at the end of the session! Another popular attraction is our waterslide! One of our middlers said she loves the slide the most because “it’s so fast and when you go in the water it’s a way to quickly become refreshed.” She also likes the slide for other reasons – waiting in the water to encourage and watch her friends go down after her!

At Rockbrook, we love spending time at the lake. Our lifeguards work hard to make it a safe place for all of our campers. Each day you never know who will be at the lake, who will swim their last mermaid lap, or who will go down the slide the most amount of times. The lake is a place for campers and counselors from different lines to come together, have fun, and to leave feeling refreshed.

It Leads to a Moment

girl on adventure bridge

Whenever the adventure staff announces that trips through the Rockbrook Zip Line course will be offered, there’s always a buzz among the girls. It’s a special trip open to everyone, no matter how old (yes even the smallest Juniors!), and we offer it almost everyday at camp, easily filling each group of 8 throughout the day. The trips take about an hour, so they nicely fit into our activity schedule. Our Zip course is uniquely woven into the forest above the dining hall, among several huge rock faces, old-growth trees, rhododendron thickets, and even a 50-foot waterfall.  With their harnesses, helmets and pulleys, the girls first hike along a trail to the first zip, a 200-foot, low angle ride across the front of Stick Biscuit falls. The second ride is faster, and flies the girls from one rock face to another about 40-feet above a deep contour in the forest floor. Then come the bridges, three different ones in all, challenging the girls to balance and hold on as they traverse to the final zip. That one launches from a rock ledge and screams 450 feet back into the camp, finishing right near the office building. The whole experience is a thrilling, immersive adventure into the natural beauty of camp.

wheel pottery girl

Both pottery studios have taken to the wheels today. Learning to throw on the wheel is often a goal of the girls who choose pottery for one of their four regular activities, eager to move past the basic hand-building techniques using slabs and coils of clay. It’s so much fun for the girls, almost magical when a ball of clay, perfectly centered on the wheel, slowly takes shape into a simple bowl. Zach and Joe, our long-time head pottery instructors, plus the counselors assigned, are right by the girls’ side assisting as they work on this skill. It can be frustrating at first, but with practice, and perhaps with some encouragement from the staff, the girls quickly feel successful. That look of understanding followed by pride at the moment a camper finally pulls up the clay on a spinning wheel —it’s really cool to see.

kayak roll learning at lake

The same sort of progression— practice leading to understanding and accomplishment —happens down at the lake when campers begin learning to roll a whitewater kayak. What begins completely disorienting (being upside down, under water, in a boat) can become simply a moment to perform another maneuver. It begins for girls by learning to slip out of their flipped kayak, learning to “wet exit” —a crucial first step before taking any kayak trip. From there, girls practice a sequence of carefully timed movements (hip snap, paddle placement, etc.) that allow them to right their boat without exiting it. It’s not easy to “get their roll,” but we’ve seen most girls master it over time. Believe me, if your daughter is working on it, you’ll hear about it the moment she finally gets her roll. It’s a truly exciting achievement.

All is well at Rockbrook as we have moved through the week. Glorious weather has provided even more liveliness to what’s already a spirited bunch. Both campers and counselors have grown more confident and comfortable, making each moment even better. It’ll be great fun to watch this continue!

girls camp group

The Occasional Sashay

camp lake time for girls

Nothing beats hanging out at the lake. When the weather is warm and sunny, like it was today, the lake has a magnetic effect around camp, congregating campers, especially during the free swim period right before lunch. With girls swimming mermaid laps, doing tricks off the diving board, zipping down the water slide, paddling a corcl boat, floating in a tube, or just hanging out on the dock or sunbathing on one of huge rocks nearby, there’s a lot going on. The whole waterfront might have 60 or so people all enjoying the festive atmosphere during free swim. It’s a classic summer camp scene that the girls can count on being part of their day.

rockbrook camp curosty cabin
r b c letters knitted

Curosty, the historic log cabin that’s home to the fiber arts activities at Rockbrook, is responsible for a great deal of the decoration we find around camp. Campers of course love all the weaving going on— basketry, floor looms, lap looms and hoops —the knitting projects, the crochet hooking, and the cross stitching. Beautiful hats, belts, baskets, pot holders, book marks, and place mats are happily produced everyday in Curosty, as the girls develop their needlecraft and weaving skills. In addition, there are community projects to admire. Right on the door of Curosty is an example of a large woven tapestry that dozens of girls have worked on. Row-by-row, campers of all ages took turns adding different colorful strips of cloth, adding weft to a large warp on a frame. You can see another of these tapestries in the works to the right in the photo.  One of these weaving projects ended up being about 15 feet long, and now serves as a colorful cushion for the dining hall porch bench.  Many of the red rocking chairs around camp likewise have similar handmade seat cushions. Rockbrook is more comfortable and colorful thanks to Curosty.

Even though most of the older campers had guessed it, the announcement that we would be having a dance with Camp Carolina tonight raised the roof with screams of excitement. Clearly, everyone was looking forward to this traditional all-camp event. Specially chosen outfits and costumes were ready to pulled out, hair washed, braided and brushed out. Again, we organized two dances, keeping the youngest girls here at Rockbrook to welcome the smallest boys from Camp Carolina, and transporting our Seniors and Hi-Ups over there to dance with the older boys. You can see from the photos below that the mood at both dances was exuberant, effervescent with high spirits.  For the entire hour and half, there was more singing and screams of excitement than not, as conga lines and group dances formed, and favorite pop songs followed one after the other.  A short break for a homemade Rockbrook cookie didn’t slow things down one bit, either.

Tonight proved once again that these dances don’t have much to do with the boys. There’s perhaps the occasional sashay, especially, as you might expect, from the older girls, but mostly the fun comes from being silly with your friends, dressing up, and jumping around (“dancing”) to familiar songs. It seems to me, it’s the girls, not the boys, that make these dances fun.  That’s not too surprising when you consider the impressive power (energy for fun) this group of girls can generate. Very impressive, indeed!

kids at summer camp dance
teen camp dance girls

Turning Into a Mermaid

By Lindsay Futch (The Lake Lady)

swimming friends at camp

So, you’d rather be a Mermaid, right?
Well good news! Rockbrook Camp allows you to do just that.

From the first day you arrive at camp, you have the opportunity to dive right into the Redbird-shaped Lake, and demonstrate your swimming style.

But if you want to be a Mermaid, clearly one dip in the lake is not enough. It takes time in the water.

Here’s the Rockbrook guide to turning into a Mermaid!

Step One: Sign up for swimming as much as you can! In swimming, we like to give time to the campers to swim their Mermaid laps.  You will swim back and forth a lot, while the awesome lifeguards cheer you on with each passing lap.

mermaid girls swimming laps

Step Two: Set a goal to swim a certain number of laps each day. Depending on your age, becoming a mermaid requires different lap totals. Juniors in full sessions swim 125 laps, while juniors in mini sessions swim 65 laps. These numbers increase as you get older!

Step Three: If you didn’t make that goal amount in swimming, continue them during first and second free swim times. Sometimes, it’s difficult to meet the lap goal that you set for swimming activities. But that’s okay!  It’s fine to take a break and enjoy playing with your friends. If that happens, just know that you can always swim during the first and second free swim periods to complete your laps.

kids goofing around at the camp lake

Step Four: Just keep swimming! Like Dory says in Finding Nemo, “just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming swimming swimming!” The laps might seem too long, but setting a goal and being determined to finish that goal is very rewarding in the end. Especially when Dolly’s is the reward!

Step Five: See your scales start to glint in the sun. You’re almost done! Just a little more perseverance.

Step Six: Feel your tail start to sprout.

Step Seven: Bask in the camp celebration of your transformation. When you’ve finally reached Mermaid status, the whole camp sings a special song just for you.

“Way down at Rockbrook in the chilly lake.
There were some girls a swimming who started to shiver and shake.
We saw some scales a glinting and TAILS they did sprout.
Lo and behold a Mermaid, the whole camp to shout. Oh Mermaid, Mermaid, what’s your name?
(Name, Name)
You’re a Mermaid!”

Step Eight: Enjoy a refreshing scoop of ice cream from Dolly’s Dairy Bar!! You’ve earned it! You’re a Mermaid!

rockbrook camp lake fun

Eagerly in Rhythm

It’s been a day filled with activity time all over camp— on every path something fun, creative, adventurous, challenging or just plain silly to do. After this many days at camp, the girls seem at ease with the daily rhythm yet equally eager to stay busy in all these ways. Here are a few highlights.

Two girls and counselor weaving baskets by the creek
camp girl aiming rifle
girl paddling coracle corcl
camp yoga kid pose

It’s definitely fun to weave a basket while at camp, but one of the additional joys of basket weaving at Rockbrook is the beautiful setting. When the weather is nice, as it’s been lately, the girls weave next to the creek near Curosty. The cool water feels great on your feet as it also keeps the reeds wet and flexible. When it’s better to stay indoors, the log cabin setting of Curosty is home to the weaving— interesting, colorful fabrics on the floor looms and baskets too.

The yoga activity has been meeting in the hillside lodge, one of the stone meeting lodges at Rockbrook. With their colorful yoga mats neatly arranged on the hardwood floor, the girls today practiced their poses, some silly and others relaxing.

The rifle range is setting records as campers are filling the roster each period and shooting as much as possible. From a prone position, they shoot .22 caliber, bolt-action, single-shot rifles at paper targets 25 meters down the range. While not everyone is tallying high scores just yet, we’ve had a couple of girls join the “Bullseye Club.”

A fun addition to our waterfront area this summer has been three brightly colored “Corcls.” These are round plastic boats designed for one person to paddle. They are inspired by the traditional boats used in Wales called coracles. Our girls have a great time paddling them while sitting, climbing on them, floating in them just chilling in the sun, and even trying to stand up in them.

An overnight camping and canoeing trip returned today from their journey down a section of the French Broad River. A few Middler and Senior girls joined adventure leaders Clyde and Jayne on the trip. They paddled for about an hour on Thursday before finding their campsite and pitching their tents on the river’s edge. It took some practice for a few of the boats to steer correctly and avoid bushes on the side of the river, but they all improved along the way. With their campsite set up and safely under a tarp, the crew ate their dinner of tamales while a rain storm passed, and once in their tents for the evening, everyone enjoyed talking well into the night. One girl summed up the trip like this, “We all had so much fun and we built some close friendships.”

The twilight activity tonight after dinner gave the girls an opportunity to learn salsa dancing. Counselor Sarah Dolce selected music, and with help from several other counselors taught a group of enthusiastic campers basic hand holds, positions and dance moves that make up salsa dances.

Finally, evening program turned to skits in each Line’s lodge. The Junior cabins took turns presenting crazy musicals, while the Middler and Senior cabin groups planned and then enjoyed acting out what they imagined different celebrities would be like at camp. Silly stuff, but hilarious fun to watch.

Camp muffin girls

Fun Whatever You’re Doing

Camper Art Drawing

If you take a look at Rockbrook’s original catalog, the one published in 1922, the daily schedule includes something a bit startling. First of all the reveille was earlier, 7:15 instead of our 8am wake up bell today, but then at 7:35 there was the “Dip.” That’s right; originally at camp all the girls took an early morning swim in the lake, and as you probably know, our mountain stream-fed lake is well known to be “chilly” or “refreshing” (euphemisms for “cold”). Jumping in the Rockbrook lake that early in the morning was certainly an effective way to wake up, and knowing the campers those days took a “morning dip” everyday helps explain a particularly odd item on the early packing list as well: an all wool bathing suit. Just imagine slipping on your (probably still damp) one-piece wool bathing suit every morning for a swim in the Rockbrook lake before breakfast! Wow! The “Dip” survives today in a tradition we call “Polar Bear,” which is simply an optional event where girls get to jump in the lake before breakfast. Today three cabins made the foggy morning plunge, and even Sarah joined them. One by one, with the shout of “polar bear!” mid-jump, we had 33 three people enjoying their dip this morning… just like the old days.

It’s not too surprising that we had so many girls willing and enthusiastic about taking a polar bear plunge this morning. We are between our July mini sessions, so instead of 210 girls (when the mini sessions are here), we have 115 full session campers right now. Honestly it feels strange to have fewer girls here, but also really nice because these are generally the most deeply rooted Rockbrook girls, the girls who absolutely LOVE camp, who are their best selves, perfectly at ease, and literally delightful (full of delight!) when they are here. For these girls, getting to jump in a freezing cold lake first thing in the morning isn’t weird or some torturous tradition; it’s another opportunity to play, to clap, scream and cheer with friends. It’s a chance to feel something real, to have an unusual experience, and to prove that they can overcome initial hesitation. Here too, like so many things at camp— activities and chores alike —being with friends you know and love deeply, makes whatever you’re doing fun.

learning to kayak
camp yoga class pose

The same could be said for all the activities that filled our morning. The creativity of pottery being glazed, threads and fibers woven into patterns, paint and dye saturating white paper and simple t-shirts. The concentration and determination required to balance on one leg and pull up the Alpine Climbing Tower, or to paddle a kayak through the lake in a straight line, or to fire a 22-calibre rifle with both accuracy and precision. The sheer muscle and effort propelling girls swimming “Mermaid laps,” smacking tennis balls on the courts, or running during the free hour before lunch. The sort of unleashed silliness that inspired so many side ponytails today (including one for me!). Song after song sung louder than usual in the dining hall during lunch… all these and certainly more, were enhanced and made more meaningful by the people and their relationships with each other here at Rockbrook.

girls camp sign along

Our evening program tonight began with everyone gathering in the hillside lodge for a special program of stories and songs presented by our friend Liz Teague. Liz is a singer/songwriter who lives nearby in Asheville, who also worked at Rockbrook years ago as a hiking guide, and whose daughter now works as a counselor. Liz brought her guitar and with help from Sarah and few other staff members, sang several old-time camp songs: “The Cider Song,” “Mountain Dew,” and “How Did We Come to Meet Pal,” for example. Liz also performed her classic “Frog Song,” a Rockbrook favorite about a frog who, after falling into a tub of milk, escapes by kicking enough to make butter. We had campers help by acting out verses of “The Rooster Song” and playing along with homemade instruments like rattles and drums. As the sun set outside, we all enjoyed the fire in the fireplace while we laughed and sang together. We closed the event with everyone making a quick s’more (How could we not with an inviting campfire blazing right there?).

Your daughter will tell you she’s having fun at camp, and you’ll probably think she means dressing up, singing songs, and enjoying all the activities available here. But it’s more than that. She’s also having fun simply being here with all these amazing friendly people (forming real friendships), energized by the positive community spirit, loved and supported by Rockbrook.  It’s truly astonishing!

Girls camp cabin