What is the Spirit of Rockbrook?

We closed our third session of camp by gathering around the “Spirit Fire,” our traditional campfire that we have held every summer since the founding of Rockbrook in 1921. Many Rockbrook alumnae talk about the spirit of Rockbrook, but what is that exactly? What is this spirit that camp girls refer to, that we write songs about, and that we feel so intently while here.

If we think of spirit as the defining element of a group, then perhaps Rockbrook spirit is a healthy combination of acceptance and adventure.

Rockbrook girls often stand up at the Spirit Fire and declare that they can be their true selves at camp, that they don’t need to hide behind a facade that is like all of their friends.

At this session’s Spirit Fire, one girl declared that Rockbrook is a place where calling someone “weird” is a compliment. Campers love the fact that they can wear a costume if they choose to and nobody seems to blink an eye. In our most recent chapel program on “individuality,” the campers enjoyed the story of “The Big Orange Splot,” in which a neighborhood all decides to make the most of a mistaken spilled can of paint on a house by transforming each house into the home of their dreams.

rockbrook camper girl

This celebration of being creative and accepted is just one feature of the spirit of Rockbrook, but it also seems the other is a sense of daring and adventure. Campers are exposed to so many options of new things to try at camp, and, with their friends by their side to laugh with them, girls are encouraged to try these new things, to go beyond what’s merely comfortable and familiar to them.

It is also fascinating for our current Rockbrook girls to learn more about their predecessors, the campers who came before them. Being our 98th summer, we have been starting to look back and learn more about the women who are the foundation on which our camp began. It is so interesting to learn that those early campers were possibly even more adventurous than our current girls, starting each day with a dip in the lake and setting up exercises before breakfast. They also went on many trips, including the famous three-day canoe trip to Asheville in the old wooden canoes that now decorate our dining hall.

At this session’s Spirit Fire, Sarah read a first-hand account from a camper who attended in the 1930s. It was clear even that many years ago that this Spirit of Rockbrook, of acceptance and adventure, was already a deep part of who the camp was and continues to be. As we look around the campfire at the girls of 2019 who share this same spirit, it is exciting to imagine what they will do with those qualities.

Candle lake procession

A Rainy, Sunny, Silly Night

Riflery is another activity that has been a part of Rockbrook since its founding almost 100 years ago. Learning the safety protocols and techniques for target shooting was a camp skill of sorts, something everyone learned, just like hiking, swimming and weaving, for example. Even today, most campers enjoy making their way down to the shooting range to fire our .22 caliber rifles. The girls shoot prone, aiming at their targets 50 feet away. The goal, of course, is to center their shots and hit a bullseye, being accurate with 5 shots per round. Getting all five shots within the concentric rings of the target is really good shooting. Every center shot earns the shooter a place in the bullseye club and her name announced in the dining hall.

beads necklace

Take a look at these painted ceramic beads, strung as a necklace and proudly worn around camp. They represent several ways this camper has been recognized as exemplary. The counselors nominate campers for these beads, and they are announced during the weekly assemblies. The one that says “Bend-A-Back” is awarded to campers who are seen helping another person around camp, or assisting the camp in some way, like picking up a stray piece of trash. “Ps & Qs” recognizes a camper for outstanding manners, usually in the dining hall. The central bead with the cardinal on it is especially meaningful. It’s the “Spirit” bead and it is given to those campers who are simply great Rockbrook Girls showing their love and enthusiasm for camp.

sliding rock children

Tonight we took our full session Seniors to Sliding Rock. We started out with a fun picnic of hotdogs, watermelon and chips up in the forest, and afterwards made our way to the natural water slide to give everyone a chance to take the plunge. It’s a huge thrill for the girls to sit down in the chilly water at the top and scream as they make the slide down to the pool at the bottom. Just as we all finished our first slide down the rock, it began to rain, so we made a quick dash back to the buses and vans. Fortunately, everyone had a chance to slide at least once before the rain. Of course, a stop at Dolly’s Dairy Bar completed our night with a delicious cone of ice cream. After they finished eating, the girls had a wonderful time singing camp songs to all the other Dolly’s customers. To everyone’s surprise on the way home, we spotted a complete rainbow in the sky over Brevard. It was a rainy, sunny, silly night in the mountains of North Carolina.  So fun!

girls camp uniforms

The Magic of Camp

Today campers began a new rotation of activities, and experienced a regular Monday at camp. While this may seem pretty unexciting, a typical day at camp is actually when that camp magic happens. Although adventure trips and special Rockbrook surprises are important and provide unique experiences for campers, there is something special and valuable about having a regular day of camp.

Tennis Playing camp girls

In activities, girls are able to connect with other campers and counselors of their age group, or line, who may not be in their cabin. They get to practice and learn new skills at the same time as building relationships. Campers don’t need to go on the zip line or a hike to be pushed out of their comfort zone. Swimming, curosty, or climbing at camp can challenge girls and allow them to grow, while being alongside their peers and counselors.

Free swims are also valuable because twice a day campers can choose their own adventure. For example, they might go to the lake to swim mermaid laps, join in with Rockbrook runners club to run on the trails, or simply sit on the hill and make friendship bracelets. The options are only limited by campers’ imaginations! It is important for girls to have this sense of independence and ability to make their own decisions as they are growing up. These free times throughout the regular camp day allow girls to have the social and physical space to be themselves as well as the space to let their imaginations run wild.

Tunnel at summer camp

A regular day at camp also leads campers to some special places around Rockbrook’s property. One path leads past the tennis courts, the Carrier House, and lower pottery to a tunnel that goes underneath Greenville Highway, so girls can safely get to the barn. It’s a fun experience to walk down the wooded path, through the darkened tunnel, and pop out on the other side to a scene of green pastures, the horses, and the winding French Broad River. Up in the main part of camp, girls absolutely love to play in the two creeks at the foot of the hill. One creek is diverted from Rockbrook Falls and feeds into the lake, providing us with fresh mountain water to swim in. The other creek comes from Stick Biscuit falls, and winds its way underneath the Dining Hall, past Goodwill, behind Curosty, and down the mountain. There is almost no need to ever leave camp for trips, as we are fully immersed in the beauty of nature right here at Rockbrook!

Trips and special events are certainly beneficial to the overall camp experience, but it is important to remember how special a regular day at camp can be all on its own. The small moments, the in-betweens, the laughs and friends—these are what add up to create a camper’s Rockbrook experience. The magic of camp is already present in the people, places, and spaces at camp, so we hope the campers take every moment they have to experience that magic.

Because of the People

During yesterday’s Spirit Fire, Clara Miller, one of the Hi-Ups (10th graders), spoke about what it means for her to be a “Rockbrook Girl,” and about what she most values during her time at camp. We thought others, campers and parents alike, would enjoy reading it too, so she agreed to let us publish it here.

One of my favorite Rockbrook songs is “How Did We Come to Meet Pal?”. In particular, I love the line “T’was fate we came to Rockbrook and you became my friend.” Year after year, I return to the streams and the mountains, slowly dying fires, and blue skies, but more than that, I’ve always returned to camp because of the people. The bonds created at camp are unlike any other. They are built on honesty and authenticity, and for that reason, they are stronger than friendships formed in any other environment. I love the mountains and their beauty, and at the risk of sounding cliche, I love camp. However, when I dive deeper into my love of Brevard and Rockbrook, I realize that both stem from the people who I’ve gotten to know. That is why I returned for my Hup year. I couldn’t bear to spend a summer without Rockbrook girls.

Rockbrook Camp Mountains

Hup year was unlike anything I’ve ever done before. It was some of the hardest work I’ve done in my life. I’ve never had to be a servant leader in the way Hup year required, and for that reason, I had to push myself in brand new ways. There were days when I couldn’t see the light at the end of the scraping-setting-barn walking tunnel. Then I would look out from the dining hall and see the beauty of camp. I would be reminded of why I choose to return to the mountains. Spending wonderful cabin days with my other Hups would remind me of the people who I return to again and again. And in those moments, I realized that I was wrong, and Hup year isn’t a scraping-setting-barn walking tunnel. It’s a year that, while difficult, is intended to push us to become hardworking, dedicated, and compassionate people. That is what Hup year means to me.

For six years of camp, I’ve been taught to face my fears, to help girls who are struggling, to give more than I take, to be grateful for the experiences and environment that I have been given, and through these ideals, become a Rockbrook girl. In past years, I have done these things, I have met these ideals, but I don’t think anything made me as much of a Rockbrook girl as Hup year. I was pushed in every way to be a brighter, stronger, better woman. Although Hup year was difficult, upon reflection, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. My seven other wonderful Hups and my two amazing Hup counselors have become a family of sorts in the last three weeks. We’ve been pushed together, and I don’t know how I’m going to say farewell to nine of the best Rockbrook girls I’ve ever met, and I don’t know how I can return to the wooded mountain without each and every one of them by my side.

—Clara Miller

10th grade summer camp girls

How Lucky We Are

It’s been the most phenomenal session. The campers, both the seasoned, multi-year returning girls and the first-timers, took everything that makes up camp and elevated it to become one of the most joyful, supportive, friendly groups I’ve ever seen. How they sang songs in the dining hall, how they strolled together between activities, how they laughed and smiled watching each cabin’s skits during evening program —this was clear in these, and so many other ways.

summer camp campfire

Tonight during the closing campfire ceremony, what we refer to as the “Spirit Fire,” we saw the special character of community these girls and the staff have formed while at camp. As the girls gathered around the campfire, dressed in their white uniforms, they huddled close to each other, many with arms around, or their head resting on, the nearby shoulder. When they stood to speak about their time at camp this session, we heard girls express gratitude for the people they’ve come to know and love at Rockbrook. One marveled at how fulfilled she feels at camp, just by “being here.” A staff member said she felt lucky to have found Rockbrook, a place of such “authentic caring.”

Alternating between these reflections on the session and singing traditional camp songs, the program became increasingly emotional. Several girls sniffled, but when others had trouble stifling their crying, the melancholy mood was contagious and soon it was difficult to hear over the sobs and gentle weeping. I was reminded of the saying often attributed to A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” When something is this good, it’s just sad when is has to come to an end.

Cherishing the memories, saving the craft projects, and collecting the photographs from the session can help a little, as can staying in touch with their camp friends, but the feeling of camp will have to wait until next summer. Thank you everyone for being a part of Rockbrook. You are what makes it special, all of you, all of us, together. How lucky we are!

Play the Game

cmap gaga ball game

At Rockbrook, we play all the time. Walk around camp at almost any time of day, and you’ll see the intensity of a gaga game, a line of girls waiting to play tetherball, and hear the familiar bounce of tennis balls being hit during free swims. Even though all of these are competitive games, Rockbrook considers itself to be a noncompetitive camp. By that, we mean that we emphasize playing over winning. Though of course winning has a certain thrill, there is beauty in living in a culture that reminds us that the point of playing isn’t always to get ahead. Sometimes, it’s about finding the joy in what you’re doing, to focus more on the process of the game, rather than just the outcome. In this, competitions continue to be a way of building each other up, whether we are the next Serena Williams, or a complete novice. We learn to support each other, to win and to lose gracefully, and most importantly, to have less inhibition about just playing the game.

Our Rockbrook camp girls really embodied this ethic today, as we went to Camp Carolina for riflery, archery, and tennis tournaments. When we got there, it turned out another camp, Keystone, was also there, so it became a tri-camp tournament! Throughout the competitions, I was really impressed by how the Rockbrook girls embodied the tenants that come from Rockbrook’s focus on sportsmanship and support, even in a more competitive environment. This morning at breakfast, Rockbrook sent its support to the tournament girls by singing the tennis song, “I’d rather play a tennis match than any other girl I know…” and the archery song, “archery, that’s for me, it’s my favorite activity…”

tennis camp girl

The girls left camp in matching shirts that the counselors had made for them, bringing Rockbrook spirit to Camp Carolina. This spirit pervaded everything they did. For example, I watched a match played by senior girls against Camp Carolina boys. One of the girls clearly had a ton of tennis experience whereas the other one was newer to the sport. I heard her laugh as her partner helped direct her around the court as she was serving, “Oh,” she said with a smile, “It’s not that different from volleyball!” The two constantly communicated back and forth, and she was able to hit most of her serves in. When they missed a ball, they kindly said, “that’s okay!” to each other, and when they succeeded, they clapped their racquets together in a high-five. Though the match was close, the duo ended up winning. Ultimately, though, the match felt uniquely ‘Rockbrook’ to me—the girls had so much fun throughout, and the majority of the focus was on building each other up, rather than being the tennis champion of the day.

Later that day, I saw a boy struggling to get his serves in the box. That same girl who did not have much tennis experience reassured him from across the court: “Don’t worry about it!” she said calmly. “I hit them out all the time, too!” Not only was she a supportive teammate to her partner, she was also kind and reassuring to her competition. In some ways, I think this epitomizes Rockbrook’s spirit. It’s not that we don’t care about winning, but we want everyone to feel that taking risks and making mistakes is okay; there should be joy in the process. In archery and riflery, Rockbrook girls loudly cheered on their teammates, no matter how many times they hit the target. At Rockbrook, being on a team means supporting each other no matter what.

Girls victory game
Vive la France!

This same spirit continued later in twilight when girls went to land sports to play World Cup Soccer. As a camp, we have streamed the quarter finals and finals of The World Cup, and we certainly have some avid soccer fans at RBC. Girls got into teams of three, and adopted a country that was in the World Cup! All of the teams try to score a goal, and when you kick, you say your country’s name! If you’re the last country to score, your team is out. At Rockbrook, though, when teams get out, they go to the side and wholeheartedly cheer on their friends! In a funny coincidence, France won the World Cup at RBC this year, too! What a lucky country!

Today was a fun day of playing and competing. Soon, we’ll go home to our own athletic teams, schools, and other activities that ask us to compete against each other a lot. As we come from Rockbrook’s noncompetitive environment, I hope that we can all remember the lessons we’ve learned here. While winning is great, it is also important to remember to try things even when we aren’t the best, it’s still important to build each other up, even when they’re competing against us, and at least some of the joy should come from simply playing the game.

camp girls cooperating