An Inviting Waterfall

North Carolina Sliding Rock
Here in the “Land of Waterfalls,” as this part of western North Carolina is sometimes called, there are almost 250 named waterfalls to be found. It’s the area’s steep mountains and rocky geology, combined (ordinarily!) with plenty of rain, that create these falls from the broad network of streams and creeks that drain into the French Broad River. Rockbrook itself is an example of this, as Dunns Creek flows down through the property forming several cascading waterfalls, including “Rockbrook Falls,” a popular hiking destination for the campers.

Beyond the beauty of these waterfalls, many of them are spectacular places to play. Even the largest of them, like High Falls in the Dupont State Forest for example, have bubbling pools of water at their base, perfect spots for a daring swim. Stepping into the water below a waterfall is intense. It’s loud and you feel a definite spray thrown out as the water crashes down. Plus, our mountain streams are always chilly, as everyone at Rockbrook knows after swimming in our lake.

Sliding Rock North Carolina CampersPair of Sliding Rock girlsProbably the best example of an inviting waterfall is Sliding Rock in the Pisgah National Forest. This is an area where Looking Glass Creek glides over a steep, sloping rock for about 60 feet, ending with a short drop into a pool at the bottom. It’s a unique mountain water slide. Over the years, as the area has become well known, the Forest Service has organized it, charging a fee, providing parking, lifeguards and first aid services during the busy summer months. It’s a very popular place among visitors to western North Carolina.

We love it too, even to the point, in fact, of bringing all of the Middlers and Seniors to Sliding Rock each and every session. Tonight it was time for the entire Middler line, plus all their counselors to take a trip to the rock. That meant marshaling 70 campers, 21 counselors, 3 lifeguards, 3 vans, 3 buses, an SUV, 2 camp directors, and 2 additional bus drivers. We had quite an army of RBC enthusiasm, when we arrived around 7pm, which by the way is after it is officially closed. This is the best time to bring a group this large because we can avoid the typical daytime crowds, have our own lifeguards, and spend more time sliding.

Sliding Rock GirlsSliding Rock CelebrationThe experience of sliding down the rock is exhilarating. The ride itself thrills everyone— feeling the shock of the cold water on your back as you sit down at the top, the disorienting bump and spin as you accelerate toward to splash awaiting at the bottom, plunging deep into the pool for a moment before popping up to see the smiling lifeguards nearby ready to help you swim to the edge and climb out of the water. Each slide takes a few seconds, giving the girls plenty of time to scream, wide-eyed, clutching each other even tighter before hitting the pool below. I heard a couple of girls take a breath mid-scream, mid-slide, and scream a second time before holding their nose and squinting their eyes tight before their splash landing. All around there are friends cheering each other on, clapping and singing camp songs while they wait their turn to slide. The entire evening was filled with laughter, shrieks of delight, and voices of encouragement. There was time for the girls to slide multiple times, but as it grew darker and lips turned bluer, we knew it was time to dry off and roll down the hill to our final stop of the evening.

Dolly’s Dairy Bar! You might think that swimming in 58 degree water, ending up chilled and wet, would discourage girls from enjoying ice cream, but that would be wrong. These girls were psyched to order their favorite of Dolly’s unique “camp flavors” of ice cream: “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion,” “Soar Super Storm” or “Wayfarer Overload,” for example. I think they have almost 60 different flavors in all, and they are delicious! Now mostly warmed up, we had a great time signing songs while enjoying our cones. By the way, Dolly’s will be open on our Closing Day next week… yes, even that early in the morning. You might want to plan on stopping. 😀

Dolly's Ice Cream Stand

Power with a Heart

Camp Horseback Riding ClassHorse Jumping Girl at Summer CampWatching the campers ride has been an especially fun treat recently. Dozens of girls have signed up for riding, some for their very first experience working with a horse, and others with more advanced skills. We have nine staff members devoted to teaching horseback riding at camp this summer, and with 30 horses in the RBC herd, there’s always a lot going on at the barn, from tacking up for a mounted lesson, to the farrier trimming the hooves on one of our Connemara ponies, to feeding and mucking out stalls. For the campers, there’s always something to learn too, both about the complexities of caring for the horses, and also about how to improve their riding skills. Today a beginner-level lesson in the upper ring had the girls doing a great job walking their mounts, steering them independently, while down in the lower (larger) ring, the advanced riders were working on jumping what looked like about 2 feet over rails. Both groups seemed happy and proud of their accomplishments.

It’s always been a question why some girls are so keenly drawn to horses, as so many girls love riding here at Rockbrook. The Kitchen Sisters have just released an episode of their podcast “Fugitive Waves” that explores this phenomenon. It’s entitled “Horses, Unicorns and Dolphins.” In the 20-minute episode, we hear the voices of young girls, authors, research scientists, and lifelong riders describing why they ride, and how they feel in their relationships with these powerful animals. My favorite line from the program is when one rider describes horses as “power with a heart.” In a sense this summarizes it. Horseback riding is so meaningful, so magical, for girls because it includes a special relationship with that heart, an emotional collaboration with that power, and fundamentally, a unique form of friendship between two beings. For those open to this sort of relationship, there’s really nothing quite like horseback riding.

Camp Tennis GirlAll of the other Rockbrook activities kept the campers busy throughout the morning activity periods. At tennis the girls worked on their volleys, while at archery and riflery, they steadied their aim. The girls climbed the Alpine Tower, and swam in the lake, if they weren’t stretching into yoga poses in the hillside lodge. Some made tie-dye t-shirts, and others sewed pillows. Some knitted hats, as other girls tied new bracelet patterns out of colorful embroidery floss. There was volleyball in the gym and cartwheels in the gymnastics area, as the WHOA instructors demonstrated how to build a fire. It’s astonishing how many different things the campers were doing at the same time all over camp!

Kids Playing Under WaterfallAlso this morning, a group of Junior campers took a “swim” hike to Moore Cove in the Pisgah Forest. Dressed in their swimsuits with towels and water bottles stashed in day packs, they followed the gentle uphill trail into the cove. It’s a short walk that ends at an 80-foot tall waterfall. It’s been pretty dry lately, so the falling water was more like rain as it dripped over the rock high above. This made a perfect place to cool off in the warm sunshine, and the girls made great use use of the opportunity letting the water spray all over them. They played in the pool below and had a great time building cairns from stones they found… a real forest experience, real play, and definitely real fun.

All of the Senior campers gathered later this afternoon for a picnic dinner in the Pisgah Forest, and a stop at Sliding Rock. Our picnic this time included a huge pile of watermelon, baked spaghetti the kitchen prepared for us in advance, salad, and sliced baguettes. I’d say it was far more of a complete meal than a “picnic.” One girl bragged to me that she ate 14 pieces of the bread! After eating, we enjoyed digesting our dinner a bit by running around playing a game of “I’m a Rockbrook Girl.” Akin to musical chairs, this game gets the the girls running from one place to another in a circle with each round identifying a new “Rockbrook Girl” for the center of the circle. There’s a lot of laughing and screaming, like all great outdoor games. It was a short trip in the buses back to “the Rock,” and soon the girls were zipping down the natural water slide splashing into the deep pool at the bottom. It’s hard to describe how much the girls love sliding rock. As you slip, spin and roll through the “freezing” cold water, it’s only natural to scream your head off, and as you watch your friends, to laugh hysterically. It’s all great fun.

“Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion” came next when we stopped at Dolly’s Dairy bar. If not that flavor, then some other sweet treat topped off the outing when everyone ordered their favorite in a cup or cone. Eating the ice cream, even after all the chilly sliding, really heated everyone up and in no time we were singing songs, posing for more photos and simply enjoying the evening together. It was the perfect way to finish up an excellent trip out.

Sliding Rock Thumbs Up Girls

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

Giddy with Wet Hair

Kayak Camp Roll ClinicWhen you squish yourself into a colorful plastic kayak and seal yourself inside the boat by snapping a rubber, elastic skirt over the cockpit opening, like 16 or so Rockbrook girls did this morning, the boat feels like it’s part of you, making it fun to maneuver through the water. Using a double-bladed paddle, the girls can turn their boats quickly. In moving water though, when currents and obstacles can surprise you, these boats can suddenly tip over. At that point, a kayaker can slip out of her boat by tucking forward and pulling a loop on her spray skirt, performing a so called “wet exit.” There is a more advanced self rescue technique, however, called an “eskimo roll” where the kayaker stays in the boat. Rolling a kayak takes some practice to learn, so today Jamie, Leland and Andria, our kayaking instructors taught a “roll clinic” to girls at the lake. They demonstrated the coordinated series of actions a roll requires— tuck, set, sweep, snap, and lean —head, hips, shoulders and paddle all working together. Then, working one-on-one, they helped each camper learn the technique. Later, several Seniors proudly let me know that they “got their roll” and they were excited to get out on the river tomorrow.

Forest Marker ShoesAlso this morning, Jayne and Hunter led a group of girls on a hike to one of the highest points east of the Mississippi River, Black Balsam Knob (6214 ft) and Tennent Mountain (6040 ft). With a lunch packed, they left Rockbrook (2300 ft) and drove up and up, through misty clouds, to the Blue Ridge Parkway where the Art Loeb trail crosses near the road. This is way up there, high above most of the trees in the area, and even above the clouds filling the valleys below. This photo shows a US Geological Survey Bench Mark, indicating a point where the elevation has been measured and recorded (as well as the variety of footwear that can tackle this kind of high altitude hiking!). This was a great trip, exposing the girls to a uniquely stark, natural environment. The feeling being up there is amazing and everyone loved the impressive view.

For our afternoon cabin day (when individual activities are paused, so each cabin group can do something special together), we gathered all the Middlers and the Mini Session Seniors for a picnic dinner in the Pisgah Forest, and a stop at Sliding Rock. Ready in swim suits, we drove to our favorite picnic area and had hotdogs, homemade coleslaw, potato chips and fruit. We ate quickly— we’re always building appetites here at camp! —and then ran around a bit playing tag games before loading all the buses again for the short trip to “the Rock.”

Sliding Rock Girls Camp Sliding Rock Summer Camp

Sliding Rock is formed by Looking Glass Creek as it cascades over a 60-foot dome of rock ending in a deep pool at the bottom. It’s our habit to visit Sliding Rock after the area is officially closed to the public, but because we have a Forest Service permit that requires us to be self-sufficient with respect to first aid and lifeguards, we are permitted to slide after hours. This is great because, like tonight, we often have the place to ourselves and our mob of girls (82 of them this time) can enjoy more slide time. Visiting Sliding Rock is also our habit because the girls absolutely love it. It’s the roar of the “freezing” water as it spills down the rock. It’s the piercing screams of the girls as they take turns slipping, spinning and sliding down. It’s watching your friends splash and swim at the bottom. It’s all just super fun.

To top off the outing, we made one more stop— Dolly’s Dairy Bar. Everyone screamed (again!) with excitement when we pulled into the parking lot. With “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion” and other “Camp Flavors” on the menu, as well as more traditional flavors to chose from, it was simple for everyone to order a sweet treat they liked. Once again, when the Rockbrook girls arrived and everyone had their cup or cone, Dolly’s became quite a party. With this many girls, it doesn’t take long for them to start singing songs, laughing, and posing for silly photos. Back in the buses, still giddy with wet hair and probably a smudge of ice cream on a face or two, we were soon back at camp, happy to warm up and turn in for the evening.

Girls Summer Camp

Lifelong Inspiration

Camp Weaving KidThe many looms of the Curosty cabin are starting to really warm up as the girls spend more time weaving. Both the table-top and large floor looms all have completed work on them now. Our master weaver Melanie, who serves as the Fiber Arts Program supervisor at Warren Wilson College during the school year, has been teaching the girls several different geometric patterns that are created by lifting groups of warp fibers as the weft is passed between them. This geometry, added to carefully selected colors for the yarns and thread used, magically creates beautiful cloth. Of course, part of the fun is watching the pattern emerge with each added row. Weaving is an example of a specialty activity that’s not ordinarily taught to kids nowadays, but despite being “traditional,” is still very cool because it’s truly creative, deeply satisfying, and for some, a craft that can become a lifelong hobby. In our 19th-century log cabin in the woods, your Rockbrook girls are experiencing firsthand something that may inspire them for years to come.

Kayaker Kid CampWhitewater kayaking is really catching on around here as well, with more and more girls choosing to paddle during one of their activity periods. Jamie, Leland and Andria are happily teaching more and more girls about how fun it can be. After an orientation to the equipment and how to use it (properly fitting a PFD, paddle, and spray skirt, for example), the girls first learn how to slip out of their kayaks if they flip over upside-down. It’s a simple technique called a “wet exit” that involves tucking forward, pulling a loop on the spray skirt, and pushing out of the boat. Most girls pick it up right away, and move on to learning how to maneuver the boat in the water. This morning Leland and Jamie taught girls the next, and more advanced skill in kayaking, the “eskimo roll,” which is a technique that uses the kayaking paddle to roll up-right when a kayaker tips over. This takes practice to learn, but with this kind of enthusiasm from the girls, we’ll soon have some popping right up. Like weaving, kayaking can be a source of lifelong inspiration for these girls.

Color Tag Game GirlsThis afternoon was “Cabin Day,” a time when we pause our regular activities to give the campers a chance to do something with their cabin as a group. This could mean making a special treat in the dining hall like homemade ice cream, going for a hike to one of the waterfalls on the camp property, having flip flop races in the creek by Curosty, having a squirt gun battle, or playing another group game of some sort. Today, for example, one of the Middler cabins played a wild game of “Color Tag.” This game is messy. It’s a complicated contest involving colorful (and washable!) paint, little sacks of flour, and enough open grassy space to charge around trying to splash paint on the other players. As you can see, the flour is also thrown, eventually, proudly marking everyone.  While not necessarily something we’d recommend trying at home, this is good camp fun.

Meanwhile, all of the seniors in camp, plus their counselors, took a trip into the Pisgah National Forest for a supper picnic and visit to the famous Sliding Rock. Grilled hotdogs and all the trimmings… plus Watermelon! …made an excellent meal high up at one of our favorite grassy spots in the forest. We played a group game of “I’m a Rockbrook Girl” —which is a bit like musical chairs, only played with shoes— before loading up the six buses and making it to the rock.

Sliding Rock Camp Kids Dolly's Camp Kids

Sliding Rock is a natural water slide formed by Looking Glass creek as it rolls about 60 feet over a smooth rock and then plunges into a deep pool at the bottom. It’s been an attraction for years, and a perpetual favorite of Rockbrook girls. There’s really nothing quite like it. The crashing roar of the cold water, combined with the piercing screams of the girls sliding down, makes it intensely fun. The girls plunge into the water at the bottom, and pop up wide-eyed and intent on swimming as fast as possible toward the waiting lifeguards. The thrill for some campers becomes addictive, and soon we had a few girls heading back up to slide again and again.

Perhaps the highlight of the night for everyone, though, was our last stop: Dolly’s Dairy Bar. With dozens of (54 to be exact!) unique flavors to choose from, including “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion,” it didn’t take long for everyone to be holding sweet cups and cones of what some campers call “the best ice cream in the world.” Ice cream after the chill of Sliding Rock? Sure! It’s just that good. And that fun— to be out at night, happily away from the ordinary, and surrounded by your friends. It’s easy to see why it’s great.

 

Hands in the Real World

Paging through the Rockbrook photo gallery, it’s quickly obvious that our girls are extraordinarily crafty. In the Curosty Cabin, one end of the dining hall (“Hodge Podge”), Hobby Nook Cabin, the two pottery studios and several of the porches around camp, we’re being creative and making things. It might be with fibers or clay, and it might require a brush or a loom, but dozens of girls have arts and crafts projects in the works.

Camp Bracelet Girl Kid Weaving Loom Camp Camp Shirt Painting

Throughout every day, in other words, Rockbrook girls are working with their hands. They’re twisting (friendship bracelets), braiding (basket reeds), tying (and dying t-shirts), painting (still life compositions), rolling (coils of clay), gluing (paper collages), sewing (stuffed animals), and weaving (loom fabrics). Here, take a look:

This is great stuff for several reasons. Working creatively with different materials like this encourages kids to experiment, try unusual combinations, and “see what happens.” There’s a joyful attitude toward the process and the end result. Also, though, I think there’s a benefit from simply working with real stuff, as opposed to what modern life ordinarily requires from us, namely a daily experience built upon abstract constructions and virtual representations (think about all those screens!). Perhaps, as we’ve lost our “manual competence” (recalling Matthew Crawford’s argument), we’ve also diminished a basic satisfaction of being human, the feeling of making something useful and beautiful. If so, then camp is a welcome return, making all the arts and crafts at Rockbrook concrete opportunities for girls to be creative while recalling the deep pleasures of interacting with the real world.

Summer Camp Kayaker GirlGirl Gaga GameThis photo shows a few girls playing Ga-ga Ball in our octagonal Ga-ga pit located near the gym. If you haven’t heard of it, this game is all the rage. It’s essentially a form of dodgeball (sometimes called “Israeli Dodgeball”) where players hit a small ball with their hands instead of catching & throwing it. Any number of girls can play, and the goal is to hit other players in the leg without being hit yourself. It’s fast paced, as the ball flies around the pit bouncing off the walls, girls jump wildly out of the way, and players who are hit hop out of the pit. Like other forms of dodgeball, the game continues until one player remains. At that point, of course, everyone hops right back in the pit to start another game. During free times at camp, before lunch and dinner, for example, you can count on a crowd down at the Ga-ga pit.

Our head kayaking instructors, Leland and Andria, have been working with lots of girls at the lake preparing them for river trips. In addition to learning about the gear, the girls are practicing basic kayaking techniques like how to “wet exit” (escape the boat when it flips), and different paddle strokes to maneuver the boats. They are very excited to master these basics and were even more so to sign up for the trip to the Tuckaseegee River today or the Green River tomorrow. These girls can kayak!

Sliding Rock KidsDolly's Ice CreamLater this afternoon, for our Cabin Day activity, all the Middlers and their counselors took a ride into the Pisgah Forest for a picnic up near the Blue Ridge Parkway. We brought hot dogs (and grilled veggie dogs), pasta salad, fruit and potato chips to eat for dinner, and afterwards spent a little time digesting by playing a huge game of “I’m a Rockbrook Girl” on the grassy field. This name game was even more fun tonight with a group this size (almost 90 campers and staff members).  Our next stop took us to Sliding Rock, where the girls had a blast zipping down the 60ft, natural water slide. As you might guess the water of Looking Glass Creek that forms the slide is a “refreshing” mountain temperature (i.e. really cold!), so part of the fun is belting out a scream to match the intensity of sitting down in that water. Just about everyone was daring enough to take the plunge, and some went down 6 or 7 times in all. Very exciting fun… but there was one more stop to top things off— Dolly’s Dairy Bar. With their combination “Camp Flavors” like “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion” and traditional ice cream flavors, Dolly’s offers a sweet treat for everyone’s taste. The girls happily lined up to select their flavor and then, after that first yummy lick, enjoyed sitting and chatting with one another on the porch or at the tables nearby. When Rockbrook arrives at Dolly’s, like tonight with our big group, it becomes quite a party with the girls singing songs, laughing and posing for photos. Now dark outside and our hair still wet, but happy and excited, we loaded up the buses and headed back to camp finishing an excellent outing.

The “Extra” in the Ordinary

Tetherball Camp GameAn ordinary morning at camp is always extraordinary in some surprising way. It’s ordinary because the structure is predictable: rising bell and cabin chores, breakfast, morning assembly in each Line’s (age group’s) Lodge, the first activity period, muffin break (yum!), a second activity, and then an hour of free time, all before lunch. This is the schedule that moves our girls from place to place throughout the camp, some stretching into a yoga pose while others flexing their arms learning to roll a whitewater kayak in the lake, for example. All about the camp, our schedule makes outdoor adventure, sports, horseback riding and crafts available for the campers. What’s extra-ordinary are the details of this outline and what each camper feels throughout the day. It’s the heart-pumping thrill of climbing Castle Rock, or the satisfaction of being one of the last players in a game of Gaga. It’s befriending a special horse, or seeing a complex weaving pattern emerge on the loom. It could be a day hike to a new waterfall, your best hit of the tetherball, or a ride on our 450-foot zipline. What’s most extraordinary though about our ordinary days at camp are our companions. It’s the great girls, the inspiring, friendly counselors and the caring relationships knitting us together. The camaraderie of camp, no matter what the activity, makes it special.

Hiking View up HighIf you go northwest about 12 miles from camp, and climb 3,700 feet in elevation, you reach one of the highest mountains east of the Mississippi River, Black Balsam Knob. Taking further advantage of the fantastic weather we’ve been enjoying, Clyde led a group of campers on a day hike this morning up and over this mountain. The drive up first takes you to the Blue Ridge Parkway, a wonderful scenic road that stretches for 469 miles through the southern Appalachian mountains between Virginia and North Carolina. The trail began by twisting through an old grove of balsam fir trees, but soon popped out into the open with grass and rock outcroppings covering the hillside. At the summit where there are no trees, the view was spectacular sloping off in all directions. This elevation, high above everything nearby (even many of the clouds in the sky), makes the distant mountains look like a green marbled carpet, and with very little wind today, the sun seemed especially warm and bright. This is an other-worldly place that’s both thrilling and memorable.

Block Party HorseInstead of regular activity periods this afternoon, since it was Wednesday, we held “Cabin Day,” in this case all-age-group, special events. The Middler Line turned “country” and threw a “Southern Block Party” complete with painted decorations (e.g., a poster that simply read “More Butter!” and another, “Run Forest Run”), silly snacks like Cheetos and iced tea to drink, and games like the corn hole and bobbing for apples. Counselors and campers dressed up in overalls, straw hats, and boots. Two special guests, Cool Beans and Cloud Nine, two of our white ponies, also attended, happily ready to have the girls paint them with colorful hand prints (using easily washable paint). They had country music playing and several line dances soon sprung up, keeping it all pretty silly, but also great fun for the afternoon.

Swim Girls in NC Sliding Rock NC Girls

Ice Cream Teens at CampMeanwhile all the Senior Line girls and their counselors took a trip to Sliding Rock. We started with a picnic in the Pisgah Forest and afterwards played a huge game of “I’m a Rockbrook Girl” (a name game that sends everyone dashing across a circle of people). This was a fun way to digest our food a bit before hitting the icy water of Looking Glass Creek that flows over the Rock. Enthusiasm for this plunge down a natural water slide seems to never wane. Even tonight with slightly cooler than normal weather, these Senior girls loved it. For over an hour, slide after slide made for splashing, screams, shivering and a few blue lips, but also the kind of enthusiastic smiles that are hard to beat.

To “warm up” on the way home, we stopped at Dolly’s Dairy Bar for a cone of what many campers describe as “the best ice cream in the world!” Some girls ordered “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion” or some other “camp flavor,” while others stuck to traditional favors like strawberry or soft-serve vanilla. Everyone found something sweet to enjoy. Energized, and at least a little warmed up, we had fun singing “Peel the Banana” and other songs, posing for a few group photos, and simply having grand evening together.

Independence with Responsibility

Pancake PicnicCamp Fire Starting ClassIt has always been part of Rockbrook’s mission to go beyond simply entertaining our campers and to focus also on how we can provide more lasting benefits to the girls who attend camp. We certainly work to make sure everyday here includes something delightful, surprising and fun. If you merely look at the variety of activities available, all the free time options, and daily special gatherings (Twilight periods, Evening Programs, dining hall skits, assemblies, and all-camp events), it’s clear Rockbrook girls are having a blast. They’re outside, they’re actively engaged with creative, adventure, and athletic interests, and they’re laughing their heads off along the way.

But of course camp is much more than a series of amusements. It’s almost cliché to say it— partly because we (and others) talk about it a lot! —but there’s no doubt that a positive sleepaway camp experience helps build important character traits that serve children well later in life, traits like those “21st Century Skills” you may have heard about: Communication, Confidence, Compassion, Cooperation, Collaboration, Creativity, Courage, and so forth.

There are many aspects of camp life one could name that contribute to this transformative power: its emphasis on positive human relationships and the friendly, tight-knit community we enjoy, coming immediately to mind. There’s a starting point, however, I would say even a prerequisite to this character growth, something that if missing will reduce the camp experience to merely a vacation, or some other fleeting form of entertainment.

Camp Needlecraft Class on back porchAt the most fundamental level, camp is a powerful environment for character development because to provides children an opportunity to act independently. On a daily basis, kids at camp can exercise their independence. Without being tightly managed by parents or teachers, they get to make their own choices about what they’ll do, where they’ll go and ultimately, who they’ll be. This is quite a lot of freedom for kids when you think about it, and it might even make a parent nervous! What if she doesn’t brush her hair, or wears the same dirty shirt over and over again!? What if she doesn’t take tennis and finds rock climbing more her style? What if she stays up late and sleeps less (or more!) than usual? What if the freedom of camp meant “Do whatever you want?”

This would be a legitimate worry if not for the structure of camp life. Keep in mind that at camp the campers can’t do simply anything they chose. The freedom camp provides to act independently without parental authorization comes with significant limitations as well. There are, for example, clear procedural rules at camp— a daily schedule of activities, safety protocols, and how to clear dirty tableware after a meal, to name a few. Perhaps even more importantly, there are likewise social expectations where the girls realize the importance of treating each other with kindness, caring, generosity, honesty, and respect, for example. The camp environment, our culture and community, is built upon the support of these structural and social limits, and the camp staff, our cabin counselors primarily, serve as nurturing role models who embody the ideals from which they are derived.

Girls waving while in whitewater rafting boatWhat we have at camp is freedom with limitations, or to put it differently, independence with responsibility. This is important because one without the other would critically fail our campers’ developing character. At one extreme, unstructured independence would lead to an “anything goes” form of chaos, and kids would fail to grapple with the 21st Century skills mentioned above. At the other extreme, rigidly scripted behaviors would rob kids of their decision making power leaving them with mere recipes for life poorly suited to cope with the complexities of a changing world.

Camp life finds that balance by providing girls the freedom to make their own choices while also taking great care to guide those decisions appropriately.  And it’s this balance that teaches kids how to be responsible. So while she’s choosing to go whitewater rafting, or to spend a quiet afternoon decorating a memory box in KIT, or perhaps chatting with a friend on the hill after dinner instead of taking a shower, she’s exploring how to act responsibly as well.  By absorbing the positive values of camp— things like respect for others, appreciation of Nature, and courage to try new things —she’s developing qualities that will help her navigate responsibly in the future.

Rafting the nantahala river falls

Well, I may have gotten a little carried away here, but I wanted to report that your girls aren’t just eating pancakes on the hill in their PJ’s, or learning to build a fire, or blasting through the Nantahala Falls, or singing ’till their their throats hurt, or zipping down sliding rock— all things we enjoyed today. They’re making independent decisions all day long, and you’d be very proud, maybe even a little surprised, to see how confidently and responsibly they are making their way.