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.
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.
Can you dig it? Yesterday’s banquet really showed us how girl power can be a peace-loving, psychedelic, disco party of good vibes as our 9th graders unveiled their surprise theme: “That 70’s Banquet.” Weeks in the planning, the girls dug deep into the style, music, and slang of the 1970s to decorate the dining hall, dress in amazing costumes, and perform choreographed dance numbers for the whole camp. Every inch of wall space was covered with painted posters depicting iconic 70s references: Charlie’s Angels, Scooby Doo, Queen, Disco Dancing, Elton John, Richard Nixon, ABBA, and Wonder Woman, for example. The walls were a rainbow of tie-dye colors, with balloons, lights and streamers strung through the rafters.
With the girls dressed as different artists, we saw amazing performances by Freddie Mercury, Josie and the Pussycats, Donna and the Dynamos, along with Go-Go dancers, hippies, and roller skaters. The girls served dinner throughout the party: “peaceful popcorn,” “groovy grapes,” “trippy tortellini,” “chill out chicken,” with “watergate water.”
Naturally, the whole evening was also a chance for everyone to dance to 1970s music, with a few contemporary pop hits mixed in. There were moments were I’d guess we had more than 200 campers and counselors all up dancing and getting down. It was a totally groovy night! Completely far out!
This afternoon, we all were thrilled to watch the performance of “The Little Mermaid.” This was a huge endeavor, to produce from scratch a complete musical. About 50 campers participated in some fashion to paint scenery, design costumes, perform a singing or speaking role, join the ensemble or work on the tech crew. The girls rehearsed during their drama activity time over the session, honing their parts, and now putting on an incredible show. They seemed so excited to be performing, having a great time on stage. Lindsay brought the house down when she sang “Part of Your World” with everyone stunned by her singing talent, and Ella, playing Sebastian, likewise impressed the crowd with her version of “Under the Sea.” In just a few short weeks, these girls put on an spectacular show!
Finally, we closed the session with our traditional campfire ceremony, what we call our “Spirit Fire.” This was a beautiful time together, all dressed in our uniforms, huddled shoulder to shoulder around a warm, glowing campfire. We sang some of the more thoughtful camp songs, heard short speeches about what Rockbrook has meant to us over the session, and simply held tightly to our camp friends by our side. It was an emotional time for most of us, knowing that we would be saying goodbye in the morning. It’s hard when something this good, something this important to us, has to end for another summer.
This has been a wonderful session… really great girls, kind, generous and enthusiastic. It’s no wonder the friendships formed here are so strong, so genuine, and so meaningful. It’s no wonder these girls love camp. Thank you everyone for being a part of this magical community.
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.
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!
“Magical” is one of the best ways to describe camp. You hear it a lot, in fact, when campers and counselors try to convey what makes their camp time extraordinary, what’s so special about camp activities, and why their camp friends are so close. “Magical” applies because camp is essentially a different world, one filled with daily surprises, wonderful discoveries, remarkable flashes of natural beauty, amazing people, exhilaration and often the deepest feelings of happiness —all rare qualities of the mundane world left behind. Everything at camp seems to have this extra quality, this power or spirit of sorts, that makes it uniquely Rockbrook. For this reason, a pumpkin chocolate chip muffin at camp will always be better than one eaten somewhere else, camp sunsets more beautiful, wearing a costume more hilarious, and feelings of belonging more genuine.
And like all things magical, camp is hard to explain. It simply stands out in very real, but ineffable ways. During the last Spirit Fire, counselor Bella Swaak spoke about her experience at Rockbrook, doing her best to relate its magical quality. Here’s an excerpt of what she said:
“Rockbrook has a special magical quality about it. Not only can you be who you want to, but you are able to grow and that magic is what brought me back to camp. Though the magic of Rockbrook is hard to describe— almost as hard as describing why a camp friend is much different than a friend from home. I like to use Sarah’s analogy of a chocolate chip cookie friend. A chocolate chip cookie friend is someone who makes you feel warm and gooey inside. They make you feel special, just like a chocolate chip cookie does. Throughout this summer, you have all become my chocolate chip cookie friends. You make me feel warm and gooey and good inside, you make me laugh until I cry, you push me to step out of my comfort zone, and you accept me for being me. You guys are the ones who I turn to in times of happiness or sadness. I come to y’all and camp as a reminder of all that is good in the world.
Rockbrook magic is also about relationships and as Wendy said, “relationships are the key to life.” Here is where my friendships have turned into sisterhood. You are the ones who I will think of when I feel like everything is wrong and you are the ones who help me see the bright in everything and my wish for campers is that you all find your own chocolate chip cookie friends, to find the ones who let you be who you want to be and support your wildest dreams, just like mine did.
Looking back at my camper years, I see how much this place has made me grow. Not only am I now able to catch a spricket or two, but the women around me have turned me into a strong independent woman. I had amazing counselors and directors to look up to, even now, as a counselor, I can say the same.
One of my favorite memories from this summer is the day that Theresa and I finished our Mermaid laps. As we walked out of the lake, we stopped by the rock and looked back onto the lake. Girls were swimming and paddling, and the counselors were cheering on everyone and the sun was shining perfectly onto the lake. As we were standing there, admiring the view, I turned to her and told her to take a mental picture, and that’s what I challenge y’all to do. Stop and enjoy the moment. Don’t rush through your years as a camper hoping to be a CA, HUP, or a Counselor. Don’t be counting down the days until banquet. Stop and acknowledge the small things because it’s easy to forget as a camper.
Though a lot of things might change about you since your first year, Rockbrook won’t. It will always be a place where girls come to play, learn, and grow. Rockbrook allows you to be who you want and it is one of the best qualities of the RBC magic.
And now as I make my journey back to the city, I will remember all I have learned from this summer. The Juniors have taught me to sing my heart out, even if the song is as silly as Copacabana, the Middlers taught me every day to not take my self as seriously and wear a silly costume here and there, and the seniors will always remind me that it is okay to be your weird, complete self.
Enjoy your last night with your friends. Tell them if they are your chocolate chip cookie friend and let them know you appreciate them because I am so unbelievably thankful to have all of you in my life. Thanks for being my chocolate chip cookie friends.
“How did we come to meet pal?
What caused our paths to blend?
‘Twas fate we came to Rockbrook,
And you became my friend.”
As the song prompted, that was the question we all pondered tonight at our final campfire of the session, the “Spirit Fire.” Dressed in our red and white uniforms and gathered on the locust-wood benches, we couldn’t help but realize that something miraculous had occurred over these last few weeks. We have become friends, camp friends, forming the kind of close friendships that are so real and meaningful they are brimming with emotion.
The Spirit Fire tonight released that emotion. As girls stood to talk about how lucky they feel to have attended Rockbrook, how grounded and free they feel here, each and every one also marveled at the friends they had made. Sharing this much together— the songs and muffins, the skits and the goodnight circles —brought us together. These camper and counselor reflections, combined with the traditional songs sung— “Nothing is Better than This,” “The Streams and the Mountains,” and “The Spirit of Rockbrook,” for example —set off waves of melancholy for some of the girls. Tears and softly checked sobs became contagious as everyone became more aware that our camp days this summer were ending and that we would soon have to say goodbye to our friends.
When Sarah spoke, she reminded us that coming to Rockbrook was a journey of discovery. It has been a time away from home that included meeting many wonderful, kind people, that sometimes presented us challenges to overcome, but also opened up new stripes of our personality. It has encouraged us to play, to be silly and creative, and to grow more comfortable with our true selves. Her hope, she said, is that we would find ways to be “Rockbrook Girls” once we return home. If it feels this good to be a Rockbrook girl here at camp, then perhaps at home we can be the same.
I believe your girls will do just that. You’ll see their Rockbrook spirit now and then, a flash of confidence, kindness, or enthusiasm. It may be subtle, but you’ll be able to tell they’ve grown. I hope you’re as proud of them as we are. This wonderful session has proved it.
The closing campfire of each Rockbrook camp session, what we call our “Spirit Fire,” is a time for everyone to reflect upon their experience at camp. It’s a time to think about what was most important, memorable, and meaningful over the days living together here. The Spirit Fire is a chance, we could say, to acknowledge the “Spirit of Rockbrook,” that special character that makes every aspect of camp life extraordinary, and exceptionally fun. Dressed in their uniforms and assembled around a blazing fire, it’s a time for all the girls, and likewise the staff members, to be together, and share what camp means to them.
Part of the Spirit Fire program are speeches, moments when selected campers and counselors stand and address everyone, reciting some sort of personal account about Rockbrook, or their feelings about camp life. Here, for example, is an excerpt from Maggie’s speech from our last Spirit Fire.
“Camp is so hard to explain to people who have never been to Rockbrook before. How do I explain how fun a shaving cream fight is? Or what it means to be a Mermaid? Or how great it feels to be the one to spin the wheel? Frankly, it’s impossible.
Friendships made at camp are unlike friendships at home. Although I only see my camp friends for a month each year, my bond with them feels so much stronger. All of my memories attached to camp are ones I look back at in a positive light. Getting to spend my summers at Rockbrook has given me so many friendships and opportunities that I will never take for granted.”
I think most everyone here has experienced what Maggie is describing. I think she is saying that despite living it so intensely while at camp, it’s difficult (even “impossible”) to describe the “Spirit of Rockbrook.” And yet for her, a core part of that spirit is the special form of friendship we all cherish at camp. It’s the character of our camp friends— their depth, power, and genuine lasting nature —in other words that makes everything else at camp so meaningful.
I think Maggie has grasped something important. The Spirit of Rockbrook, that ineffable force shaping our time together, is fed by the incredible power of friendship. This is why girls will tell you they come back to camp every summer for “the people” (or for what I might add, “their relationships with the people at camp). They want to be with their special “camp friends,” experience again that special closeness, and return to a life energized by the “Spirit of Rockbrook.”
It’s a separate question to wonder what makes camp friends special (“forever friends”), and further what it is about the overnight camp environment that allows this special character to form. We’ll have to consider those questions— how and why camp friends are so special —in a later post. For now, we can simply celebrate camp life, and recognize the importance of friendship for its unique spirit.
Producing and performing a stage musical ordinarily takes a group of people hours of rehearsal over several months, unless, that is, it’s a group of Rockbrook Camp girls at work. Today we witnessed the powerful talent of these girls when they presented their production of “The Wizard of Oz.” With only about two and half weeks to prepare, the girls put on an amazing show complete with characters, costumes, music, singing, and stage acting. The familiar storyline made it even more enjoyable to see our friends from camp —”I know her!”— dress as Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin man, the Lion, and the Wicked Witch of the West… and Toto too. Likewise, it was delightful to hear the girls sing favorite songs like “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead,” “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” and “If I Only Had a Brain.”
During the intermission, more campers took the stage as the different age groups took turns performing a choreographed group dance. There was such enthusiastic support for all of these performers, as the crowd of campers watching cheered and clapped spontaneously.
Both in the dance performances and in the play, the girls seemed poised and relaxed, happily following the choreography and delivering their lines. It was clear they were having a grand time, slyly giving each other a smile at times, laughing at their minor missteps, and loving the attention and admiration from the audience. Wonderful!
Later in the evening as the sun began to set, the whole camp gathered at Vesper rock dressed in their uniforms for the closing campfire of the session. It’s a tradition, our “Spirit Fire,” that goes back to the very first summer when Nancy Carrier founded Rockbrook. She knew, and we continue to acknowledge, that when girls spend this much time together, build this much meaning together, grow this close, they need a way to express their feelings about camp before departing. The program of the Spirit Fire, for this reason, is a series of traditional camp songs, and speeches delivered by campers and counselors, with Sarah wrapping everything up. The setting is gorgeous— nearby the lake, surrounded by huge trees, with crickets and frogs chirping their calls over the crackling fire. Tonight it was also emotional as several speakers described Rockbrook as the only place were they feel accepted enough to be fully themselves. But mostly, we heard about how the people here at camp are so special, in ways vastly different than friends at home. For these girls, camp is different. And that’s a very good thing.
The final part of the Spirit Fire program is a candle lighting ceremony. Sarah lights a white candle from the fire and then passes that flame to every camper as they file by. Slowly, with lit candles in hand, the whole camp then forms a line around the lake. Facing inward, singing softly, it’s a last moment of quiet reflection to end the night.
Looking out over the candle reflections in the water, we all felt it tonight. We all knew this has been a wonderful session. The spirit of Rockbrook, focused and celebrated during the campfire, has affected us all, connecting us profoundly to this place and to each other.
The last few days of a camp session have a new momentum, a slightly accelerated pace and intensified rhythm that feels a little like the finale of a fireworks show. There’s a flurry of events that cascade into a blur of activity and emotion. The whole session culminates with different moments of celebration and reflection when we gather as a community and enjoy each other’s talents and accomplishments. Each event is a beautiful reminder of how we’ve grown, and grown together, over our time together at camp. You’ve never seen such support! These girls all mean so much to each other now, it’s amazing to watch.
A good example of this community festivity is the session banquet. Essentially an all-camp party, the banquet is a themed dinner planned by our 9th grade campers (known at camp as the “CAs”). These girls select a secret theme on the first day of the session and then work to transform the dining hall for the party. They work on costumes, music, decorations, the menu, and rehearse group dances and skits to entertain the rest of the campers and staff. This session’s CAs presented their “Into the Storybook” banquet complete with a cast of different fairy tale characters: Little Red Ridinghood, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Peter Pan, Snow White, Three Blind Mice, Hansel and Gretel, and others.The girls did a great job decorating the dining hall, covering every inch of wall with floor-to-ceiling posters depicting scenes from fairy tales. They served “Maleficent’s Mac and Cheese,” “Peter Pan’s Popcorn Chicken,” “Jack’s Magic Green Beans,” and “Poison Apple Slices.” The tables included souvenir cups, candies, and streamer decorations. With a large area cleared for a dance floor, soon the entire camp, fueled by friendship, was singing, dancing, and having a great time.
Another community celebration was the presentation of this session’s musical, “James and the Giant Peach.” Over the course of the session, 55 campers, under the direction of 4 staff members, rehearsed songs, built scenery and props, and memorized lines to present this adaptation of Roald Dahl’s popular children’s novel. The story presents the fantastic adventure of orphan James, the magical garden insects he befriends and their journey across the ocean inside a giant peach. It was a joy to watch. The girls really had fun acting the parts, singing the songs, and at times being silly on stage for a laugh. During the show’s intermission, the Junior, Middler and Senior dance classes each presented a group dance. Showing off their moves, choreographed for every dancer to move in unison, it was entertaining and impressive to see what the different age groups could do.
One of the most beautiful moments of the session, our closing campfire or “Spirit Fire,” is another example of how close we’ve all grown at camp. Dressed in their white uniforms, the girls and their counselors all crowd around a glowing campfire to sing some of the more traditional songs and to pay tribute to the experiences shared, the deep relationships formed, and the personal strides made while together at camp. It’s a time to reflect on what camp means to us, to hold our friends close, and to marvel at the Rockbrook Spirit that makes camp special. Campers and counselors are invited to address the group too, sharing their thoughts about camp.
Olivia Vasquez, who is a new counselor this summer, spoke particularly well, and I thought you’d enjoy reading part of what she said.
“The Rockbrook community is a unique and funny thing, hardly something you can explain without jumping into it. It’s so incredibly tight-knit, which can make new people feel unsure and hesitant. How can you fit into a place already so beautifully woven together? But it’s through this same closeness that the magic can happen. That suddenly, before you even know it, you become part of a family you wonder how you’ve gone so long without.
The community here is joyful. When friends and family ask me how it is, I tell them, “It’s somewhere I can be happy all the time.” Not that I need to be or can’t be sad — If I am sad, there are always open arms and ears ready to listen. But if I want to be happy, there is someone to share my joy, to celebrate even the smallest victories, to remind me that there are few more freeing things in the world than to express the deepest gladness you hold inside you.
And so, in these few weeks I’ve spent here in the heart of the wooded mountain, witnessing the magic of my first banquet, the sweetness in the sound of our cabin’s laughter, the realness of the spirit of Rockbrook, I have ended up different, and yet the same. More myself, and yet less about me. These campers have made me laugh, cry and search for answers. Counselors and directors have done the same. But Sofie said it pretty perfectly the other day when she said that no matter what happens, we’re all just here— at Rockbrook and on Earth —to walk each other home. And what an honor it has been, is, and always will be, to walk with each of you.”
The Spirit Fire closed with everyone lighting a small white candle and forming a row around the lake. As we sang softly and candlelight reflected from the lake back onto everyone’s face, it was a beautiful summer camp moment. What could be better than being surrounded by all these friends and filled with so many great memories from our time together? It was the perfect way to close what truly has been an amazing, wonderful session.
As second session girls prepared to depart, they wrote many of their thoughts about camp down for Spirit Fire. Girls from every line are invited to speak in front of the rest of the camp about what this summer at Rockbrook has meant to them. These speeches were particularly thoughtful; as such a long and beautiful session ended, sincere sentiments were met with smiles and tears as the girls prepared to leave. Although it is now third session, it seems like a great time to share this poem that two campers created and read at the end of second session spirit fire. I expect that all girls who have ever been to Rockbrook (or who are coming for the first time) will be able to relate to it.
It’s hard to explain what home really is.
Your friends at school, Your group, your clique, Pressure getting A’s, Pressure fitting in: Perfect.
The love and care from mom and dad,
The entertainment from brothers and sisters
A variety of choices
From restaurants to malls:
It’s hard to explain what home really is.
Your friends in your cabin, A fun group, but not a clique The pressure fitting in is not as much of a challenge Growing, learning to be myself: To be my type of perfect.
Love and care from counselors and directors, Entertainment from the hi-ups and CA’s, our role models A variety of choices: Adventures, activities, creativity: Not the usual, Once a year…
How can two places, so special, so different, still be home? Stripped away from air conditioning, electronics, and carpeted floors?
Home away from luxury– More alive, More real…
It’s hard to explain what home really is. I guess we all have two.
Written for Second Session Spirit Fire by Karma B. and Sam H.
There are several all-camp events that close the main sessions at Rockbrook, and as we have finished today, we will have enjoyed them all. It’s important that these events involve everyone at camp because they represent the tight-knit community that has formed over the last few weeks, the feelings of camaraderie and appreciation we have for each other, and the unity gained from all of the moments— big and little —of shared experience during camp. The community of Rockbrook has grown stronger during the session, and while you sense it throughout each day, these final all-camp events make who we are as a group even more clear.
The “Banquet” is a great example. Our ninth grade girls, who we also refer to as “CAs,” are given the responsibility of planning our session Banquet, to select a secret theme, and then present an elaborate party based on that theme. Special music, almost 100 different hand-painted posters along with other decorations, food to match the theme, plus dance performances and skits in costumes— all make the event. There are souvenir, decorated cups and printed programs on each table, plus, of course, lots of candy to assure it’s a “sweet” party.
This session the CA girls presented a “Mario” banquet filled with characters from the Mario Brothers and Super Mario Nintendo video games. From Mario to Peach, Luigi to Toad, Donkey Kong to Daisy, there were colorful characters serving the dinner and performing several choreographed dances to some of the video game music. The campers, all dressed in this year’s RBC t-shirt, joined in several of the dances, turning the whole dining hall into a fun dance party. Occasionally pausing for a photo or a giant gulp of water to re-hydrate, all of us danced (laughed, smiled and jumped!), sang (screamed and shouted!), and ate (nibbled chicken fingers and fries, and chewed different candies!) together. We were hot and sweaty, but oh so happy having this much fun.
The closing campfire, what has been called our “Spirit Fire” at Rockbrook for 95 years now, is another example of an all-camp event that signifies the positive feelings of community we enjoy here. Different from the banquet though, this event is more reflective and carries deeper emotions. First, we hold it on the last night of camp. We all dress in our white uniforms. We sing our more traditional songs like “In the Heart of a Wooded Mountain” and “How Did We Come to Meet Pal” around the campfire. And we hear campers and counselors speak about their time at camp and what it’s meant to them.
More than anything, the Spirit Fire is a beautiful reminder of the camp community and the very real feeling of being respected and loved by a group of friends. We’ve forged a collective spirit over these last few weeks, supported by kindness, cooperation and care, and bubbling with enthusiasm and encouragement. The Spirit Fire is simply a focused moment defined by that spirit. As we sit together around the blazing campfire, with stars above and the sounds of crickets and night frogs all around, it’s hard to not get a little teary. It’s a wonderful experience.
It’s been a fantastic session… packed with action, and maybe a little too much singing and dancing, if that’s possible. Thank you for sharing your girls. We will miss them, and until then, look forward to singing and dancing with them again next summer.