An Abundance of Fairies

Fairy House made from natural materials at summer campOne of the traditional songs we sing at Rockbrook is “In the Heart of a Wooded Mountain,” the title of which has become one of the phrases we use to refer to Rockbrook. Generations of girls, and now alumnae of the camp, understand this phrase intuitively after living among the old trees, moss and lichen covered rocks, and steep hills of this protected place. Another phrase from this song refers to Rockbrook as a “Fairyland of Beauty.” Here too, experiencing the splendor of camp, really feeling the wonder of its natural setting, is just magical. It’s the kind of place where friendly woodland fairies would live and do their work, making everything come alive with color, pattern and texture. With some imagination and free time to explore the woods, both of which are more than abundant around here, you can see evidence of fairies all over camp. It’s natural then for girls to help the many Rockbrook fairies by building them houses. Tucked into little corners by tree stumps, or perhaps under a broad fern frond, campers construct their fairy houses using special enchanted sticks, leaves, moss, and stones. It’s a delicate, and quite intentional process, but today the Rockbrook fairies gained two new luxury apartments thanks to a couple of juniors.

Camp Water Slide girlBlue sunny skies and warm 80-degree temperatures made our morning activities just delightful, particularly after yesterday’s morning rain. The equestriennes were back in the rings learning to post, the archery and riflery markswomen were adding to their target scores, and the Alpine Tower climbers were back on belay all morning long. High above, cabin groups of Juniors were taking their first ride on the RBC Zip Line, screaming and waving their arms with glee all along the 450-foot ride. At the lake, it was a parade of water sliders hurling themselves down “Big Samantha,” as our slide is affectionately, though informally, known. Leaps off the diving board, swimming laps to join the “Mermaid Club,” or just splashing around in a floating tube, were just right for others at the lake.

Creative headband made by camp girl Dancing campers at girls camp Learning to knit at summer camp

Elsewhere in camp, the Hodge Podge craft activity girls were making some serious headbands using pom-poms, ribbons, sparkly beads, feathers and gel pens. Were they practical, utilitarian head bands? Probably not, but colorful and fun? Absolutely! In the dance studio, set in the Lakeview lodge, girls were leaping and twirling across the hardwood floor practicing their dance moves, resting now and then for further instruction. Over in the shade of the back porch of the Curosty cabin, other girls were knitting, some with traditional knitting needles and others using the hoop-shaped “Nifty Knitters.” After selecting their favorite color of yard, it didn’t take long for these girls to learn the basic stitches needed to see a satisfying fabric of woven yarn emerge.

Camp girls smile going down sliding rockTonight we set another record when 120 people from Rockbrook picnicked in the Forest, slid down Sliding Rock, and invaded Dolly’s Ice Cream stand. The group was that large because we took all of the Middlers and Mini session Seniors, plus all of their counselors. Seven buses and five cars were needed to transport everyone, so it was quite a mob. A group this size, while making it louder and a little more rowdy, definitely made it more fun too. The enthusiasm for sliding down the rock, feeling the deep-down chill of mountain water splashing up your back, energized the whole scene as did the everyone’s screams and yelps. Four or five slides later and a short drive down the hill, we all made a stop at Dolly’s Dairy Bar for a yummy cup or cone of their custom “camp” flavors of ice cream like “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion,” “Slick Rock Rumble,” or “Music Camp Obsession.” Any of the campers will tell you (and probably will when they see you!), “Dolly’s has the best ice cream ever!” You may have to stop by when you pick up your daughter from camp… 🙂

Ice Cream Eating Children

A Community of Fun

Girl and horse at equestrian campThis is a time of camp when everyone seems to be settled in. After only these few days together we’re singing the songs louder and more confidently, taking on higher level activity challenges, and most importantly, happily greeting so many more new friends we see around camp. That’s the really cool thing; you can feel the whole community growing closer and caring for each other. And of course, knowing this many people this well, we all are having even more fun. There’s a friend around every corner, someone waiting to join you in whatever the next thing is. “Let’s go get changed for horseback riding!”

young camp girl learning to knitOne of the oldest buildings at Rockbrook is a 19th century log cabin called Curosty. Originally constructed in nearby, Rockbrook’s founder Nancy Carrier moved it here to serve initially as the camp’s office. Now it houses our fiber arts activities. Inside you’ll find girls learning to weave using all kinds of looms and techniques. They are weaving narrow belts and headbands on tabletop looms, wider and more complex fabrics on the floor looms, and simple designs on lap looms… All surrounded by the hand-hewed timbers of this 150-year-old cabin. On the back porch of Curosty, in the shade of the oaks and hemlocks and nearby a gurgling creek, our Needlecraft activity meets. This is another wonderful opportunity for our campers to step back in time and learn classic needlework crafts like knitting, cross stitch, and embroidery. Working with colorful threads and yarns, the girls are threading, twisting and knotting strands into beautiful designs. Different from some of the more physically active, thrilling activities, stepping into Curosty is calm and conversational.

Campers-dressed counselorsGuess what happens when you let eight 2nd graders dress you in anything they want. That’s right; it can be pretty crazy, and that’s exactly what the Junior Line girls did tonight to their counselors.  For their evening program, and with all sorts of costume props at their disposal, the girls didn’t hold back as they added multiple layers and accessories. Hats, scarves, sunglasses, tiaras, dresses and skirts- nothing seemed out of bounds. The finale was a wild fashion show in the Junior Lodge, which had everyone rolling with laughter. It’s great for the girls to see their counselors be such good sports, throwing themselves into all this silliness, just letting go and enjoying themselves no matter who might be watching. After all, that’s exactly what “having fun” often means.

Also tonight all the Middlers and their counselors took a trip into the Pisgah Forest for a picnic dinner. Rick and his crew packed us yummy Burritos, chips and fruit to eat, and after a short drive we had the whole crew (92 people in all!) skipping and frolicking through the grass of our favorite secret spot. Back in the buses, we then headed to Sliding Rock for a few trips down the rock. A rain shower from earlier in the day had swollen the creek a bit, making it a slightly faster ride, but it had also warmed up the water temperature a bit (though I suspect the girls didn’t really notice!). Sliding Rock is a real mountain treat, and is something Rockbrook campers have enjoyed for generations. Finally, we made a stop at the famous “Dolly’s Dairy Bar,” located at the entrance to the forest. Everyone picked out their favorite flavor for a cup or cone, like “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion,” to top off the evening.

Happy Girl Loving Camp
This is awesome!!

Silly and Chilly

If you’ve been following the photo gallery, you know dressing up in costume is a regular occurrence around here. Every other day or so, we have a special event, or just an announced theme, where we encourage the girls and the staff members to dress up or create a silly character. And the sillier, the better! You should see what these girls come up with when they combine hats, dresses, wigs, make up, paint, glasses and all kinds of improvised props like sticks, leaves and brooms.

Camp Children Dressed UpA great example of this was the “Disney Photo Shoot” the girls held on the hill after dinner, during the hour of free time we call “Twilight.” It’s a time when the girls can hang out, take showers, read, play tennis or tetherball, but when they can join an optional camp-wide game or activity. The “Photo Shoot” was just that: a chance to dress up and pose for a few photos. It seemed to be most popular with the Juniors (K-4th graders), but the counselors were also pretty excited about the chance to pose. I’m not sure how these costumes were “Disney-related,” but I’m sure if we asked, the girls would have a clear answer. In the end, of course, that doesn’t matter because dressing up is really just for the fun of it. It’s a chance to let go a little, to laugh with your friends about how crazy we look, and to be completely indifferent about what people might think. It’s camp!

Camp child doing gymnastics on balance beamDown in the gym, Elaine Trozzo our longtime gymnastics coach is working with the girls. After a thorough warm up with plenty of stretching on the deep blue padded runway (flexibility!), she has been helping them with beam techniques (balance!). Elaine and her staff of counselors are great at tailoring each class to every camper’s level of gymnastics experience. Beginners might be practicing on the low beam, while more advanced girls can work on the full-sized balance beam, for example. Each day the girls can enjoy a different gymnastics event. Maybe the high bar, the mini trampoline, or the tumbling runway- there will be helping hands, instruction and encouragement to make it great.

Camp children going down sliding rockIt looked a little cloudy as we pulled out of camp with all of the Senior girls loaded into 4 buses, but we were hoping the rain would hold off for a picnic and trip to sliding rock. As we drove along Looking Glass Creek in the forest though, it started to sprinkle a bit, so suddenly our picnic needed shelter. Fortunately, we knew just the place were we could all sit and eat while waiting for the rain to stop. You might guess that it was a bit chilly at this point, but did that prevent us from stopping at sliding rock? No way! The rain had finished, and dinner had really energized the girls. Yes, the water was “FREEZING!” but that didn’t prevent many of the girls from enjoying the plunge. I do think the squeals were partly due to the water temperature, but also from the sheer delight that comes from such an extreme experience. With Dolly’s Dairy Bar at the entrance to the Forest, we had to stop on the way home. It’s funny how despite being chilly and wet, nobody was too cold for an ice cream cone!

Full-Throated Fun

Camp girls exploring nature in the lakecamp girl swimming with a watermelonOne of the activities offered each day at Rockbrook is something called “Nature.” While rather broadly defined as anything involving the plants, animals and forests of camp, it’s a real treat for the campers. The notion of exploration, of discovery, describes it pretty well also, because mostly the campers are tromping around through the woods and finding fascinating bits of the natural world. With more than 200 acres of Rockbrook property available, the counselors have come up with loads of really fun ways for the girls to be true naturalists. They take stream hikes, stopping to turn over rocks looking for crayfish and salamanders. Like in this photo, they take nets and capture tadpoles at the lake to compare their stages of development. Or, they may simply hike through the woods, perhaps bushwhacking off-trail, to marvel at some of the huge old growth trees on the property.  Of course part of the fun is getting a little dirty and truly feeling the grit and grime of what they find, but that’s one of the things that helps the girls appreciate the beauty of it all, and for us, is something we can feel good about because of the benefits outdoor experience provides.

During one of the swimming activities this morning, the counselors greased up a watermelon for the girls and organized several fun relay races. There’s still plenty of silt coming down the creek and into the lake making the water cloudy, and this made the watermelon a little more difficult to find when it went under. Having to hunt for a hidden, submerged fruit is surprisingly fun because it can appear far from where you expect it. On a bright sunny day, this is good old fashioned fun, and it comes with a sweet tasty watermelon treat.

girls cheering their friends on sliding rockBeing Wednesday, the afternoon was our cabin day, a time when instead of each camper pursuing her individual schedule of regular activities, the cabin groups and their counselors stay together for special whole-cabin events. Each cabin decides what they would like to do. Many involve hiking, like along the gentle trail to Rockbrook Falls or the steep and severe trail up to Castle Rock overlooking the camp. Today, a few cabins played group games on the hill, a couple of Junior cabins played board games, and others relaxed on the porch of the Lakeview lodge making friendship bracelets. One cabin was caught doing outdoor yoga!

girls screaming on sliding rock girls showing power on sliding rock girls splashing into sliding rock pool

All of the senior cabins took a special trip right before dinner. Dressed in their bathing suits and with towels in hand, they loaded up the buses to head out to a special spot in the Pisgah Forest for a picnic. Our timing was excellent because when we arrived, we were the only people there to enjoy a wonderful grassy field, trimmed with awesome shade trees and just the right number of picnic tables. Rick packed us another amazing dinner of fresh corn on the cob, tortellini, warm rolls, and cool, bright red raspberries. The late afternoon sunshine was gorgeous and we had plenty of altitude to keep things breezy and comfortable. After eating, we couldn’t help but skip around the field and play an exuberant game of “Duck Duck Goose.” You might think teenage girls would be “too cool” for this kind of game, but not so with this crowd.

Our next stop on this outing was the main event: Sliding Rock. Always a favorite, this is the natural waterslide formed by Looking Glass Creek as it drops about 60 feet over a gently sloping rock into a deep pool. Going this late after the Forest Service lifeguards have left (we bring our own) is ideal because it avoids the typical crowds of summer, and thereby allows our Rockbrook girls to spend less time waiting in line and more time sliding.  Is the water cold?  You betcha!  That explains why most of the photos of the girls sliding end up showing them with their mouths open.  A few can remain poised enough to smile for the camera as they accelerate toward to bottom, but most are anticipating the plunge that awaits and just let loose with a wide-eyed, full-throated scream.  You can almost hear it in each shot.  Meanwhile, the rest of the girls waiting their turn are cheering their friends on, clapping and shouting.  It really is super exciting.

With our fill of sliding, there was one more stop to make, and it’s always a crowd pleaser.  On the way out of the forest we took that happy left turn into Dolly’s Dairy Bar so everyone could enjoy a cone of their favorite flavor of ice cream.  There were more screams and cheers of delight as we pulled into the parking lot and all the girls ran to join the line waiting to order.  Dolly’s has refined their serving so it took just a few minutes for everyone to be savoring (for some, gobbling) their treat. Yummy stuff.  It was dark by the time we made it back to camp, bringing our surprise night out to a close, but it was the kind of big group fun we love around here, and a really good time.

Girls at dolly's after sliding rock

Worth Preserving

Learning archery and arrows at summer campThe NC Legislature just passed a bill, and the Governor has signed it, establishing a commission to study the current length of the school year in North Carolina. For the last couple of years, there has been a broad debate about how much classroom learning our children should have. On one side there are those that call for more time in school, more minutes in class per day and more days per year, because it’s believed academic achievement is proportional to the amount of time in school and it’s been observed that children lose some of their academic progress over the summer when they aren’t studying. On the other side, there are those that value the traditional summer break from school (June through August) and understand it as an opportunity to learn equally important non-academic skills, so-called “life skills” or “personal skills.” These are things like being creative and independent, being friendly and outgoing, being resilient and determined, and so forth.

It’s easy to guess what side summer camps come down on. We cherish the summer months because they provide time for camp, naturally, but what’s important about that is all the important “whole child” learning camp provides even as our kids are having a great time. Check out these two articles we’ve already written on this issue: Longer School Year and Amy Chua and Camp.

There’s plenty to say about this, and I’m sure there will be even more debate as time goes on, but it’s worth remembering the real growth children experience at summer camp. When your Rockbrook girls return home, you’ll see it. They’ll be more excited about things, more likely to “dive right in,” and be quick to smile and laugh at the most common moments. They’ll probably seem just a little taller, in several different ways. A camp experience provides so many benefits that are difficult to reproduce at home and at school, it can make a profound difference in a girl’s overall education, and that’s something really worth preserving.

Girls ready to slide down the rock Brevard Sliding Rock Top

Girls love sliding rockToday, as part of our cabin day events, we took all of the mini session Middlers and Seniors to Sliding Rock. The Seniors took a morning trip and the Middlers an evening trip. With snacks packed (and a complete dinner for the Middlers— Rick’s chicken potato casserole, coleslaw, bacon, and nectarines— an amazing, delicious combination), we loaded all the buses for each trip into Pisgah. On both trips we went “after hours” so we could have the rock to ourselves and the girls could slide as many times as they wanted. The record I heard was 11 times. That’s a lot of slippin’ and slidin’! As the girls sit down at the top of the rock and they feel the cold water hit them in the back, it can be bit of a shock, the kind that brings out plenty of wide-mouthed screams. But as they begin sliding, pick up speed and get closer to the final plunge, just about everyone either has her hands in the air, is holding her nose, or is screaming her head off! Sometimes all three!

Topping off these trips, we just had to stop at Dolly’s so everyone could pick out a cup or cone of their favorite flavor of ice cream. Dolly’s is a wonderful ice cream stand located at the entrance to the Pisgah Forest that offers more than 50 different flavors, one of which is named after Rockbrook (there are 20 other camp flavors too), “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion.” Yes, it’s an all-chocolate flavor with fudge, brownies and chocolate chips mixed in, but also mini-peanut butter cups to “lighten it up.” A little over the top, but yummy.

We are all having a great time… a getting a lot out of it!

Campers Happy at Dolly's

Doubling Friends

Making true friends at campOne of the great things about coming to a sleepaway summer camp is the way the environment, the setting, and the culture of the place, all encourage kids to make friends. We’re really seeing this these days at Rockbrook, as obvious groups of laughing girls seem to always be together, to be signing up for activities together, and grabbing muffins together at “muffin break.” We’ve talked about the importance of camp friends before, but it’s so obvious to notice in action. These girls are sharing so many wonderful experiences, meeting so many nice people who are relaxed and open, and exploring the outdoors together, it’s just an ideal setting to forge meaningful relationships. Away from the more rigid expectations of school and their school peers, and immersed in a place like this where you can be your true self, camp is a magical place where girls easily make true friends.

Campers attend yoga class kid makes ceramics project at summer camp Camp kid rock climbing

This morning we were treated to amazing mountain weather with a little fog and low 60s when we woke up and then bright sunshine throughout the day. It made our morning activities in camp and our out of camp trips (a waterfall hike and a rock climb) just perfect. The girls were finishing up their first set of activities today, so it was great fun to dig deeper into camp. Shooting a real gun, making a cool new pottery mug, learning a few yoga poses, and climbing up a 100ft tall rock. Pause for muffin break… today “Oatmeal Cinnamon Raisin.” Then, we’re off for more adventure, sports, arts and horseback riding, sprinkled with a good dose imagination.

Kid at camp shooting a rifleThe afternoon, it being Wednesday, brought “Cabin Day,” a time each week when we stick together as a cabin group for activities instead of breaking up and following our individual activity schedules. Groups of girls were playing games on the hill, taking hikes to Castle Rock, swimming at the lake, making baskets and others enjoying smoothies in the dining hall… all great ways to build cabin camaraderie. Later in the afternoon, the entire Senior line took a trip into Pisgah to visit Sliding Rock. We waited until later so the crowds would be gone and we could have the rock for ourselves, which turned out to be a good idea since we had 85 people in our group! Most of the girls slid down 4 or 5 times, until we all got hungry enough for a picnic supper (some of Rick’s homemade salads— potato, egg, chicken and pimento cheese —on croissants, fruit and Alison’s lemon bars.  It felt so good to be out in the forest together enjoying each others company and good food after the big (and chilly!) adventure of Sliding Rock.  And to top it all off, we just had to stop at Dolly’s for a cone of their fantastic ice cream, the Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion being a favorite flavor.  An awesome trip.

Lovin Camp 80s Style

Camper girls dancing and dressed to the 1980sLet’s flashback to the 80s. That’s exactly what the whole camp did on Tuesday night this week! The word went out at dinner that everyone should bust out their best 80s attire, that they should go back in time and transform themselves into jazzercise junkies and big-haired beauties ready to bop to the top pop of our favorite retro decade. There were so many tie-dyed, oversized t-shirts torn and slung from one shoulder, lycra tights and sweat bands, jean jackets and Ray-Ban sunglasses, it would make your head spin.  But is was also hilarious to see how well the girls could look the part and how many of the songs they could sing— 867-5309 Jenny, I Want Candy, Mickey, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, and of course, Thriller. The counselors had just as much fun as the campers dancing, making a conga line, and leading different group dance moves.  Just like working out in the 80s, we all were sweating and having loads of fun.

It’s been a couple of days of wildlife sightings here at Rockbrook. The coolest was a peregrine falcon spotted down near the Castle Rock Lodge. We’ve known that a falcon was nesting up on Dunn’s Rock, but this was the first time someone had seen it near camp. Up until 1999, the peregrine falcon was listed as an endangered species by the federal government, and even though it was de-listed then, the NC Wildlife Resources Commission has kept the bird on North Carolina’s list of endangered species because peregrine falcons have not recovered fully in North Carolina. Last night Sarah caught a glimpse of a gray fox cutting across the hill. We’ve seen these shy, bushy-tailed, nocturnal animals at camp before, but they are rare, so it’s a nice treat to be reminded that they are roaming around these hills. Rockbrook really is a wildlife sanctuary of sorts. With more than 200 acres of wooded land that remains undisturbed most of the year, it’s easy to see why.

Camper Girls Sliding Rock Campers Children sliding rock Camper kids sliding down the rock

Kids enjoying ice cream at summer campFor our Wednesday afternoon cabin day, the Juniors held a swim party down at the lake with Luau music and games. A perfect way to spend a hot afternoon, but also made complete by a quick trip over to Dolly’s for an ice cream cone. The Middlers’ cabin day was a trip to Sliding Rock up in the Pisgah National Forest. We carted the entire line, eighty something people, to the rock after dinner when we could have the place to ourselves. I think most of the girls were able to slide 6 or 7 times before it was too dark to continue. Naturally, we all had to stop at Dolly’s on the way home for a cone of “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion,” or some other yummy flavor. Everyone was eager to pick their favorite flavor even after dunking ourselves in the cold Looking Glass Creek water of Sliding Rock.

Oh, I forgot to mention that Rick and his kitchen magicians amazed us all again with a dinner of homemade pork barbecue, beans, coleslaw, fresh cut fruit, and chips. It takes all day to prepare the barbecue, but it’s worth it. We’ve been hearing the “Cook’s” appreciation song sung a lot these days!

We Swim, Dress Up and Slide

It’s hard to say which flavor of muffin is most popular at camp. With Liz, our baker, creating so many new varieties from scratch— not to mention the traditional kinds— there are too many to choose from. There’s blueberry, but also key lime muffins, cranberry walnut, but also chocolate chip, and sprinkles, and white chocolate almond! Liz arrives at 6:30am each morning and gets to work right away to have the muffins baked and cooled by the mid-morning muffin break. Since there are more than 300 people (campers and staff members), that’s a lot of muffin trays, papers and individual dollops of batter to prepare! The muffins are always so good the girls literally run to the dining hall when they hear the bell announcing “Muffin Break.” For everyone at camp, Liz is a hero!

In fact, the entire kitchen crew are heroes at camp. Rick and his crew are really working hard to create great balanced meals for us, and this isn’t “camp food,” pre-processed, frozen, nuggets of whatnot fried and served with ketchup. Nope. All the main dishes are homemade, from the pizza dough, to the pancakes, to the chicken and dumplings. Rick puts together every meal’s menu, so for dinner yesterday we had baked tilapia, wild rice and a spinach salad. Each tilapia fillet was spiced individually, and the salad included a homemade sesame salad dressing. It’s also amazing how Rick takes time to make special vegetarian options. So for example, he made vegetarian dumplings combining green tomatoes, goat cheese and a light sauce with the dumpling dough. It was a pleasantly surprising combination, and with a big green salad, made a great meal. Sorry to talk so much about the food at camp, but after being away for a couple of nights camping, it’s hard not to!

Junior camp girls play dress up game Middler camps go to sliding rock trip camps senior girls go on swimming trip

Wednesday we took cabin photos before lunch and during rest hour. Gathering everyone in each cabin, dressed in their camp uniforms, and taking their photograph is a long tradition at Rockbrook. Part of the fun is that each cabin gets to select where it would like the photo taken and how to arrange each person. There are so many different places at camp to pose— on one of the many huge rocks, down by the lake, standing in a creek, or on a porch or set of steps. It’s fun for campers to keep their copy of their cabin photo and to collect them over the years in a scrapbook or camp photo album.

For Wednesday afternoon’s cabin day activities, the three lines split up. A few junior cabins went on short hikes to Castle Rock and Rockbrook Falls, but one stayed to put on a dress up fashion show in the Junior Lodge. Silly, silly stuff. Meanwhile, several cabins of seniors took a quick trip into the Pisgah Forest to take a dip in a swimming hole. The water was pretty chilly (like all the creeks and streams in these mountains), so it took a while for most of the girls to get wet. After dinner, all of the mini session Middlers took a trip up to Sliding Rock. Many of the girls had never been to Sliding Rock before, so it was particularly fun to see them zip down the rock and funny to hear them scream when they plunged into the cold water below. There are lots of photos of this in the RBC gallery. Naturally, on the way home, we had to stop at Dolly’s for a cone, a yummy sweet treat of some kind. Being all things chocolate, the Rockbrook camp flavor is still one of the most popular. It was a little bit of a late night for these Middlers by the time we got back to camp settled down, but we all enjoyed ourselves in true RBC fashion.