Fighting that Familiar Flicker

Backwards Day CampersIt’s Backwards Day! After dinner last night, during the regular time of announcements in the dining hall, Chase our program director surprised the girls by describing the creative challenge of being “backwards” the next day. Right away at breakfast this morning we saw the silly confusion of girls dressing backwards— t-shirts, shorts and hats worn in reverse… hairstyles too —braids running down foreheads, pony tails covering girls’ faces. The kitchen meals were reversed with burritos for the morning meal and breakfast foods (hash browns, bacon, eggs and fruit) for dinner. All around the camp, campers would suddenly walk backwards. Down at the rifle range, the instructor commanded, “Line the on ready,” and so forth. Back strokes at free swim, left-handed tetherball, and down-climbing at the Alpine Tower— there were small, inventive examples of being backwards all day long.

Meanwhile, the Hodge Podge craft activity was focusing on making tie-dye t-shirts in its classes. With squeeze bottles of brightly colored dye ready, the girls first folded and tied a white t-shirt into a chevron, bullseye, spiral or other pattern using rubber bands. Red, blue and yellow dyes, making shades of purple, orange and green, came next, the girls making decisions about how (which colors, where and how much) to apply them. In a few days, after the dye has time to set, it will be fun to unfurl the shirts, rinse them, and admire the colorful patterns created.

Archery pull girlAt the archery range, the girls were concerned with accuracy and precision rather than creativity. Like the target shooting at Riflery, the goal here is to remove variation and shoot the center of the target with each arrow. Practice, repetition, steady technique, and adherence to recognized protocols help focus the outcome (bullseye!). The most skilled archers are not creative when shooting; they are consistent.

Naomi, the head of our fiber arts program, tells me she has observed this contrast between creativity and consistency in the way campers approach craft projects. Some children want clearly defined steps, a recipe of sorts, to guide them through a project, while others want more open access to the materials and techniques, eager to play with options, make unexpected combinations, and literally venture outside the lines. She seemed to observe some campers being more immediately creative, while others more concerned with “getting it right.” At the same time, we both thought that everyone inherently has the ability to create. But like some muscles, some us are stronger at first and have developed that ability more effectively. There’s the notion that creativity is a force within all of us that we need only set free. And it’s a personal skill worth developing because it can serve us well when faced with new problems or other obstacles in the future.

There’s lots to say about the benefits of developing one’s creativity, and likewise how we might encourage our children to exercise their “creativity muscle,” but it’s worth noting that camp is the perfect place to do that. Everyday there are opportunities to create at camp. “What would you like to do?” is the question. All manner of practical and aesthetic decisions are made throughout the day. There’s time for exploring, and friends to accompany every new journey. Crucially, at Rockbrook there’s constant support and encouragement for trying new things, dressing up, and bold expressions, always without judgment or embarrassment. From acting in the play to evening cabin skits, and for so many more examples, there’s a freedom here to create, to give it a go “just for the fun of it.”

Also though, and this might be the most important factor, at camp there’s no electronic, passive entertainment. We put aside our screens, and thereby open up time to create. Without the seduction of that familiar flicker, camp provides kids the time, space and culture to encourage their creativity to burst out. In this screen-free environment, they can face a blank canvas and dive right in with paint, choose their own colors, and go boldly forward. They can feel more confident to explore what’s unfamiliar, and learn from the process no matter what the outcome.

Celebrating creativity… It’s a pretty fun habit! And good for us too!

Yoga pose kids

Cabin Day Smiles

This afternoon we happily cast aside our regular schedule for activities to give each cabin group a chance to do something together. Ordinarily, campers select their daily activities individually, scattering all the members of a cabin according to their personal preferences. It’s possible to do things with cabin mates, go swimming or zip lining for example, but it’s also common to have a totally different activity schedule from the other girls in your cabin.  Our “Cabin Day,” which happens on Wednesday afternoons, reverses that.  Each cabin group sticks together, and with assistance from its counselors, plans a whole-cabin activity of some sort.

Spa face mask funny kidsOur two cabins of Juniors banded together to enjoy a unique “Spa” experience at the Carrier House, the childhood home of Rockbrook’s founder, Nancy Carrier, and now the house where Jeff and Sarah Carter live with their family. With Sarah, the Junior counselors, and the camp moms all helping, the campers rotated through four different stations. One made “slime” using white school glue, borax and food coloring. I think the idea was that the slime was “good for your skin.” Another station involved a huge array of nail polish. Multicolored manicures and pedicures for all! The third station involved facials of a sticky “mud mask.” Sarah gave tours of the house for the fourth station, explaining some of the interesting history of Rockbrook along the way. All four stations took place simultaneously giving the girls plenty to do, giggle and smile about.

dyed hands from girls tie dyeing t-shirtsThe Middler cabins branched in all sorts of directions for their cabin day. One made pottery and then took on the challenge of making ice cream using ziplock bags, salt and ice to freeze the cream. Another cabin went down to the garden to pick flowers and make individual bouquets. One cabin got particularly messy making tie-dye t-shirts. An adventurous cabin packed a few snacks and headed off to Rockbrook Falls hiking and when they returned switched gears and decorated tote bags. Probably the most impressive project hatched from a cabin who wanted to thank some of the non-cabin staff members at camp, like the kitchen folks, office workers, nurses and maintenance staff. They designed a “Compliment Board,” a bulletin board where campers could post compliments for these staff members. It was a sweet thoughtful gesture!

teen girls dressed for bowlingFinally, the Seniors switched things up completely. The entire Senior Line dressed up in wacky costumes (of course!) and went bowling! They had a great time inventing silly bowling techniques, singing along to the jukebox, and posing for photographs. Cheers erupted with every strike, and dance moves with every gutter ball. To cap off the evening, we made a stop at Dolly’s Dairy bar so everyone could sample their favorite flavor of ice cream. It’s always an exciting event to visit Dolly’s. After finishing their cones, the girls tonight sang all of the senior songs flamboyantly entertaining the other Dolly’s customers. It’s quite a sight, our group of zany, costumed, ice-cream-sugar-charged girls singing together. You can’t help but smile seeing so many people having such a great time.

Pottery Glazing Girls

Fun Just Like That

Girl Making Tie Dye ShirtHere’s a common question we hear at camp; “Can I tie dye my __________?” Tie dying is part of the Hodge Podge craft activity, and mostly we have white t-shirts available for the girls to dye, but this question has also been framed with answers like, “my shorts,” “my underwear” (of course!), “my socks,” “my backpack,” and even “my shoes!” We love that kind of creativity around here, so often the answer is “Maybe! Wanna try it?” The results could be described as “mixed,” but it’s certainly fun to experiment with the squeeze bottles of bright colorful fabric dye. When it comes to shirts, the results have been spectacular lately… chevrons, spirals, bullseyes, waves, smilies, and plenty of random patterns, all with great, vivid colors. Making a tie dye has a fun surprise built into the process too— when the t-shirt, or other garment, is untied and you get to see the cool pattern created from the dye being absorbed or resisted. One group of girls today looked particularly pleased at their untying. Look out for some fun new fashions heading home to you at the end of the session!

Summer Camp SwimmerThe Rockbrook lake continues to be a popular spot throughout the day. As so many other parts of the country are baking in the summer heat, we’ve been hitting high temperatures in the mid 80s. That’s not too hot for around here, but with the humidity, a dip in the lake has felt excellent. The girls have been hard at work swimming their “Mermaid Laps” (A certain number admits them into the “Mermaid Club.”). They been perfecting their silliest jumps from the diving board, and repeatedly zipping down “Big Samantha” our giant water slide. There has been some mischief underway too with a bunch of squirt toys, athletic skill shown using kick boards, and plenty of cooling off and relaxing in the inner tubes.  In addition to the regular four activity periods when the girls can sign up for swimming, the lake is open to everyone right before lunch and dinner for about an hour. I’d say with all of these options and opportunities, most everyone at camp is visiting the lake these days.

The great warm weather lately has also inspired us to offer the girls several waterfall and creek hikes. Right here on the camp property, the WHOA (Wilderness, Hiking, Outdoor Adventure) instructors have been bringing girls to Rockbrook Falls. It’s a nice set of small waterfalls that cascade down multiple levels into pools… perfect for a refreshing dip. For several Junior campers, the creek in the center of camp is a place to play, stack stones, and race sticks (or their shoes!) in the current.

Outdoor Swimming HoleA few miles south of camp, the Dupont State forest has magnificent high waterfalls like Triple Falls and Hooker Falls. In the Pisgah Forest, a group of Juniors visited Moore Cove to feel the spray of the waterfall there. And we’ll be heading to sliding rock tomorrow night for the ultimate waterfall experience.

Every year when we survey the campers about their favorite outdoor adventure activity, whitewater rafting wins the number one spot (Ziplining has become #2, by the way). That’s not too surprising when you consider how perfectly it combines several amazing things. First, just being outside is great, but when you have the natural beauty of the Nantahala Gorge, the steep rocky slopes rising on both sides of the river, it’s extraordinary. There are massive trees (poplar and hickory come to mind), thick rhododendron thickets, and flowering silk trees. There’s bound to be a King Fisher that swoops by chirping, and a sharp eye may spot a turtle or water snake hiding among the sticks and leaves of an eddy. Some of this probably slips right by most of the campers because the real focus is the crazy, bumpy ride in raft. The girls take turns “riding the bull,” which means sitting on the front of the raft with their legs dangling, an intrepid hood ornament that’s bound to get the biggest splash in the rapids. Falling out of the boat is part of the fun too… for that matter, so is falling into the boat unexpectedly after hitting a hidden rock. Let’s not forget the temperature of the water either: a frigid 50 degrees thanks to the majority of the water coming from the bottom of the deep Nantahala lake (as part of the Duke Energy hydroelectric project). Hitting that water, even when it’s sunny and hot outside, is a wide-eyed, breath-taking, shock, just as it’s an excellent thrill.  Add to that the fun that comes from singing and laughing with friends in the boat. For the two hour trip down the river, the girls are splashing each other, waving for photo opportunities, making “high fives” with their paddles, and doing “fire drills” to switch places in the boats. Yes, it’s outdoor adventure, but taken altogether, this is super fun too. Since we took almost half of the camp rafting on the Nantahala today, it was fun… just like that.

Rafting Celebration in a Rapid

Proud of These Girls

Horseback riding camp girlHorseback riding was back in full swing today under bright blue skies and without a drop of rain to speak of. Kelly and her team of dedicated instructors were excited to move their classes from the porch of the equestrian office and inside the barns, where they’ve been meeting during that spell of soggy weather, to back outside for mounted lessons. The riders in every lesson were itching to ride too, the beginners ready show what they’ve been learning about the horses’ tack (saddles, reins and bits) and the more advanced riders thrilled to be meeting a new horse. A big part of riding is creating a level of trust, friendship really, between a horse and rider. The best riders “click” with their horses, communicating clearly, respecting and sympathizing, so it’s always a great thing to see Rockbrook girls out riding and demonstrating this kind of intimacy with their horses. Almost 100 girls rode today, so it was a big day of horseback riding down at the barn!

High Ropes Course Climbing childChild with big gunThe Alpine Tower came alive with all kinds of high ropes course adventure today as well. Driving up the north driveway of camp, you may have spotted in the woods this giant, 50-foot climbing tower made of massive telephone poles, cables, bolts and rope. Up close, and particularly when there are (up to six at a time) girls climbing all over it, it’s even more impressive because there is such a variety of climbing challenges to try. There are swinging logs, tall cargo nets, climbing ropes, inclined poles, wiggly planks, and a strenuous overhanging climbing wall to choose from. At the top of the Tower, there’s a triangular shaped deck where the staff have placed a poster for girls to write their name as having successfully made the climb. Coming down from the platform is simple. Every climber is on belay when climbing, so when ready, the belayer lowers her slowly down on the belay rope. Like being on a big rope swing, it’s a fun ride.

At the rifle range, which is also set back in the woods away from camp, the girls are focused on the upcoming riflery tournament against the Camp Carolina boys. The instructors are hoping to match last session’s win, so they are really working, shooting hundreds of rounds everyday. Cliff, who is a retired law enforcement trainer and our marksman coach this summer, is helping the girls with their shooting technique as well as keeping the rifles perfectly sighted and maintained. And his coaching is paying off! Some girls are consistently scoring in the mid 30s (out of a possible 50 points- 5 shots, with a bullseye scoring 10 points) and a couple are clustering shots and scoring in the 40s. Very impressive accuracy and precision!

Campers making tie dye t-shirtsGet ready for tie dyes! The craft activity we call “Hodge Podge” has been cranking through tie-dye t-shirts giving everyone a chance to twist, fold and squirt colorful dyes. The process begins with soaking a plain white t-shirt (though a few other cotton items have found their way) in a solution of urea. The girls then use rubber bands to bind folds of the still wet fabric tight enough that when they apply different colors of dye, some parts absorb less dye than others. The shirts then sit overnight. It’s always fun to see what cool patterns are revealed when the they are finally unfolded and rinsed.

Tonight was a camp dance night as we hosted the young boys from Camp Carolina in our gym, and our oldest girls rode over to dance in their dining hall. For years we have done it this way, holding two simultaneous dances to manage better so many children and to play more age appropriate music at each venue. The senior girls seemed most excited about the event, but in a great lighthearted, Rockbrook, way. Instead of fancy outfits, most of them wore campy clothes, t-shirts, even crazy costumes. Most brushed their hair, I suspect, but face paint and glitter were more prevalent than make up. When came to dancing, it was just as silly, with small clusters of girls laughing and jumping together to the beat, almost oblivious to the (much more shy) boys. These are strong young ladies who know how to have good fun. You should be proud!

teenage campers dancing at camp dance

Tie Dyes are Always in Fashion!

Camps Craft Tie Dye

One craft at summer camps like Rockbrook that’s always popular is making a tie dye t-shirt. It’s certainly a classic thing to do, and while you might think of swirls and colors on shirts from the 1970s, tying and dyeing cloth is common all over the world. For example, there is adire tie dyeing in Nigeria (Africa), shibori dyeing in Japan, and mudmee dyeing in Thailand, just to name a few.

In the Rockbrook craft activity called “Hodge Podge,” the girls use rubber bands to tie up the cloth. Folding, twisting, bunching, pinching, and wrinkling the material you make all sorts of different patterns. Then with the rubber bands, you keep everything tight. The tighter the fold, the more resistant to the dye that part will be. That’s part of the creativity involved— deciding what to make tight (resisting the dye) and what to leave loose (taking on the color of the dye). Plus, there’s the fun of picking what colors to use, and in what areas. With so much variation, it’s neat to see how each shirt turns out different.