Fed by Friendship

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.

teen camp friends

“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.”

girl camp friends

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 intuited something important. The Spirit of Rockbrook, that ineffable force shaping our time together, is fed by the incredible power of friendship here. 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 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.

Camp friendship

Focused and Celebrated

wizard of oz camp cast
beware of the dangerous woods

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!

girl camper friends

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.

rockbrook camp closing campfire

Oh So Happy

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.

Banquet Girls
Banquet Friends
Banquet Teens

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.

Camp Spirit Fire Kids

A Day of Hugs

Closing our long session of camp, as we did today, is always emotional, and often a tearful experience for all of us— campers, staff members, and parents too. Combined with the happiness of reuniting with family members, today brought on a sudden sadness from realizing that everything we’ve been loving about camp is ending… at least for now. Today we had to say goodbye to the freedoms of camp, to all the action, the silliness, creativity and adventure built into everyday of the last few weeks, but more intensely, to all the wonderful people of camp, to the love and support everyone cherishes about life at Rockbrook. There are friends here, true friends who we will miss deeply even as we know that camp will always welcome us back. It’s been a day of hugs, where we try to embrace, for just a moment longer, how Rockbrook feels and what it truly means.

It’s really a difficult thing to describe, but here’s a lovely message from a parent that speaks to it:

kaitie U. From 2007

I cannot believe that 10 years have passed since we first made our way up the gravel driveway to camp. It really did not dawn on me until Kaitie came home that this was her last year as a Rockbook Camper. She loves her special time there so much, I guess I thought it would just go on forever. Until I read her statement that she gave at Spirit Fire and saw the tear stains on the ink, I didn’t fully appreciate how much this summer meant to her. I was touched by the raw emotion she expressed and the anxiety she feels about the possibility of never returning again in the same capacity. Rockbrook is more than just a “camp” that she goes to for a few weeks every summer. Rockbrook is a part of the fabric of her very being. It is a part of her philosophy of living. She sees the world through the eyes of a 7 year old little girl who found her way through the heart of a wooded mountain, cabin by cabin, to become the amazing young woman she is today. I find it difficult to put into words…it is the way she stands, the way she walks and the smile on her face when she speaks of this special place that is hers. I cannot thank you enough for everything you have given her.

I hope you have a great rest of the summer. Know that she is thinking of you every single day. I cannot imagine better thoughts.

Laurie Uebelhoer

Thanks everyone for a great session! We’re all looking forward to when we can see you again at Rockbrook.

Truly Meaningful

Camp Uniform Girls
Spirit Fire Candle Lighting
Spirit Camp Fire Line UP

As we romp through our days here at Rockbrook, dressing up, singing zany songs, laughing and smiling more than not, it’s easy to forget that a big part of what fuels this exuberance is something quiet and deeply emotional. There are feelings at work here, feelings of kindness, caring and generosity that have defined our camp community, and it’s these positive feelings for each other, deep down, that make what we do so much fun. How much we all love camp deepens as this “Rockbrook Spirit” grows, drawing us all-the-closer each day.

Tonight during our closing “Spirit Fire,” we witnessed just how powerful these feelings are for your girls. How they sat (arm and arm, as closely as possible), what they said (about the friendships and personal confidence they’ve discovered at camp), and how many of them were moved to tears during the campfire —made it clear how truly meaningful this session of camp has been. Since 1921, Rockbrook girls have closed their sessions in this way, paying tribute, essentially, to each other, recalling that the personal strides they’ve experienced, while derived from inner courage, were largely made possible by the support they felt from their friends.

It was beautiful to see, girls of all ages expressing their gratitude, gathered around a fire, with stars and tall trees all around. The evening closed with Sarah lighting a candle from the campfire, and everyone then lighting their own small white candle. Guided by only candlelight, all the campers and their counselors then formed a line around the lake, facing inward. With crickets and frogs punctuating their soft singing, and golden candlelight reflecting off the lake, the whole scene was just gorgeous. There’s just no better way to affirm what camp means to us, and to mark the great session we just shared.

Shoulder to Shoulder

Willy Wonka JR Camp Play

This afternoon the entire camp, plus a few of the invited parents of girls performing, gathered for a special event in the gym, which, like last night’s banquet, was the culmination of creativity and hard work spread over many days during the session. It was this session’s camp musical, Willy Wonka JR! Throughout the session the cast members have been learning songs, rehearsing choreographed dances, and memorizing lines for the main characters in this well-known story of Charlie and his quest for a golden ticket to tour the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory. We had campers of all ages playing the main parts: Willy Wonka, Charlie, Grandpa Joe, Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, Mike Teevee, and an entire crew of Oompa-Loompas complete with orange skin and green hair. The songs were wonderful too— “Cheer Up Charlie,” “Pure Imagination” and the “Candyman,” standing out as favorites. Watching the performance, I could really tell the girls were enjoying themselves. Thanks to everyone, particularly the drama instructors, for making it an enjoyable afternoon for everyone!

Campfire Closing Night of Camp
Camp Spirit Candle Girl

We closed the day, and the session, tonight as Rockbrook girls have closed their session every summer since the camp was founded in 1921— with a special campfire we call our “Spirit Fire.” Different from the zany exuberance we’re more accustomed to around here, this is a chance to slow down a little, clean up a little (We wear our “whities” uniforms.) and enjoy a campfire together paying tribute to the experiences we’ve shared, the deep relationships we’ve formed, and the personal strides we’ve made together at camp. The scene is beautiful— counselors and campers gathered around the fire, squished shoulder-to-shoulder, maybe sitting on a welcome lap, inching as close as possible together, stars and tall oaks high above, crickets chittering about, all glowing a dim orange from the fire and nestled in the woods we have come to know and love so well. Adding to this are the traditional songs sung as part of the Spirit Fire program. Here’s a 1-minute recording of a song from last night.

The program also included campers and counselors from each age group presenting short speeches summarizing how they feel about Rockbrook and relating what they’ve learned during the session. Sarah also spoke, tonight giving everyone a challenge to enliven their “Rockbrook Spirit,” their kindness and generosity of attitude, their authentic selves, back home and at school. We closed the Spirit Fire with everyone lighting their own small white candle and forming a row around the lake, singing softly. With the water reflecting candlelight back onto everyone’s faces, surrounded by all these friends, and filled with so many great memories from the last few weeks together, this was an emotional, beautiful moment. I can’t think of a better way to mark the great camp session we’ve had together.

The Richness of Our Days

Spirit Fire Campers

There’s a strange time warp that happens at camp, a sense of time that’s accentuated during a long session like the one we are finishing today. It’s peculiar how time passes here because for some reason it seems to both speed by, but also creep along day by day. Oddly you hear both kinds of comments from campers and counselors: “Wait? It’s only Wednesday?” and “I can’t believe it’s already time for Banquet!” My best explanation for this points to the richness of our days, to the incredibly abundant range of activities, surprise events, conversations, and meals we enjoy everyday. Packed into each day are so many things that engage, thrill, and perhaps challenge us. Camp life means making things, being with people, and going places. One moment we might be breathing hard from climbing the Junior Hill, and another we’ll be wringing a few drops of water from our hair thanks to a passing rainstorm. With this much going on— “constant activity” is not an exaggeration —we’re never “wasting time.” We’re filling our days to the brim with nature, relationships with caring people, excellent food, and dose after dose of silly fun.

Life at camp slows the passing of time because it accomplishes all of this. Adding up the sheer volume of new and different experiences, reflecting on it just a bit, paying attention to its details, we simply have a lot of time to recall. At camp, it’s hard to ignore the daily abundance of novel experiences and that slows down our perception of time. Simultaneously, however, these experiences are also really fun. They’re exciting, stimulating and fully engaging. With the collective spirit of camp amplifying every moment, we’re not having fun sporadically; we’re having a blast virtually every minute of our waking day. Because the abundance of our experience at camp is also an abundance of fun, our sense of time speeds up. After all, time really does fly when you’re having fun. The time warp of camp life, its seeming speed and span, springs from this unique combination.

Spirit Fire Friends


During our closing campfire tonight, our “Spirit Fire,” several campers and counselors stood to speak about what camp meant to them this session, recalling fondly the richness of their days at camp. For many, camp felt “too short” but also “the best summer of my life.” New campers described being nervous about camp at first, but quickly realizing that Rockbrook is a welcoming, encouraging, positive place ready to bring out everyone’s best. Returning campers talked about the incredible friendships they’ve formed at camp and how every summer they return, those friendships become more important to them.

Spirit Fire Candle

Sitting together like this under the white oaks, circled around a blazing orange fire, the deepest meanings of camp come to the surface.  Camp has brought us all closer together, just as it has challenged us to grow a “little in the spirit of Rockbrook.” The Spirit Fire is a beautiful ceremony in this way, celebrating all that we’ve experienced together. After hearing from the campers and counselors, and Sarah’s reflections on the session, everyone lit a small white candle and slowly formed a line around the lake. We stood for a few minutes looking out at the many reflections of candlelight in the water. It was a marvelous scene, and the perfect way to close the Spirit Fire.

Thank you everyone for your enthusiasm and support over the last few weeks. It’s been a phenomenal session, and we’re so proud how everyone helped make that possible. We look forward to welcoming you back the “Heart of a Wooded Mountain” soon!

Top 10 Reasons Every Rockbrook Girl Misses Camp

Every Rockbrook girl knows the bittersweet feeling that comes along with leaving camp at the end of the session.  We’ve had such an awesome time meeting new friends and trying new things, and leaving it all behind seems impossible.  The friends and memories made keep camp on our minds all year long.  We all know the truth behind the words, “The summers fly by, but the winters drag on.”  So, in an attempt to lessen the pain of children being “campsick”, this is an ode to every Rockbrook girl who misses her days in the heart of the wooded mountain.

The Top 10 Reasons Every Rockbrook Girl Misses Camp

simple creek

1. Simple Days

I know what you must be thinking- camp isn’t SIMPLE!  No way!  We do fun things all day and wear crazy costumes to lunch and paint our faces and dance in the dining hall!!  Allow me to clarify: camp is really the only place where having fun is our main job.  We don’t have to worry about finishing our homework, making it to basketball practice on time or keeping up with our Facebook page.  It’s nice to escape the pressures of home and just enjoy ourselves.  At Rockbrook, time slows down, life is easy, we find fulfillment in the simple things — wearing crazy costumes, painting our faces, and dancing our hearts out.
 

muffins

2. Muffins by Katie

Our awesome baker, Katie, is the best of the best, the cream of the crop, at the top of the totem pole when it comes to making muffins.  Whether it’s a fancy mint chocolate chip recipe or a more simple funfetti or blueberry muffin, we can’t get enough!  Katie’s muffins are just what we need after first period, and muffin withdrawals are no joke after we leave camp.  Check out this video that shows just how important muffin break is at Rockbrook.

For EB

3. Counselors like this

We all know what it feels like to have that counselor.  You know the one I’m talking about — she makes you feel special because she truly cares about you.  She’s interested in you and is there to make your camp experience the best she can.  She’s cool because she understands that camp is cool.  She’s like a fun older sister, like the most awesome baby sitter you’ve ever had.  Most importantly, she’s a role model and a friend.

girls-friendship-bracelets

4. Friendship bracelets
Chevron.  Twist.  Totem pole.  Diamond.  Ladder.  No matter how old we are, making friendship bracelets is a hobby enjoyed by Rockbrook girls far and wide.  We spend countless hours at camp making bracelets for our friends.  The only thing better than receiving a friendship bracelet is giving one.  Free swims and twilights spent on the hill making friendship bracelets are when we make some of our best memories- memories that stay with us long after our bracelets fall off.

sophie dolly's

5. Dolly’s Ice Cream

I’d be lying if it weren’t included on the list.  I’ve heard Rockbrook girls describe Dolly’s as the “best ice cream place in the world” on more than one occasion.  Whether you choose to order our very own flavor, Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion, or to go a different route, chances are you won’t be disappointed.  There’s no doubt that Rockbrook girls are missing Dolly’s this time of year.

little jrs

6. Friends like these

Camp friends are the best friends.  Ask any Rockbrook girl, and she will tell you that this is true.  It is because at camp we get to know one another for who we really are.  The relationships that we form are based on real feelings, not on superficial things.  At camp, it doesn’t matter what brand our new shoes are, or if we have the coolest new cell phone.  It doesn’t matter if we are big or small, tall or short.  What matters is how we treat people, how we make them feel.  Camp friendships are built to last a lifetime.

laughing

7. The songs

“Are you a camel, a good looking camel, and say, have you got a hump?”

“The rosy mist of the morning, veil it anew at dawn, like a fairyland of beauty…”

“I wish I was a honosorarius a ratamatatamy, a ha-ha-ha.”

“(Insert all lyrics to Oh I Was Born here)”

Yes, the Rockbrook songs are filled with silly lyrics like these.  We all know that we’ve randomly started singing these songs at home or at school on more than one occasion.  There’s nothing like singing along to a good Rockbrook song in the dining hall or around the campfire.

grace and elley

8. Moments like this

Camp is silly.  Camp is carefree.  Camp is FUN.  Ask any Rockbrook girl where her happy place is, and I bet she thinks back to a moment like this.  A moment in which nothing matters but the present and time stands still.

harlem shake

9. The Rockbrook (Harlem) Shake

Things like this happen at Rockbrook.  A lot.  They are wild and magical and unheard of everywhere else.  We miss having the opportunity to dress up in crazy costumes and dance with all of our friends.  This video of the Rockbrook Shake reminds us just how wonderful camp is.

spirit fire

10. The Spirit of Rockbrook is real and we know it

There is a feeling that we get as Rockbrook girls — one that we can’t really describe.  A feeling of belonging, a feeling of certainty, a feeling of self-worth.  It’s this feeling that causes us to miss each other throughout the year, that causes us to yearn for the days of summer.  We know it’s real, because we’ve never felt a love like this.  It’s this feeling that assures us that no other camp is like our own, that no other place can do for us what this one has.  It’s the Spirit of Rockbrook, and it’s with us always.