One Silly Camp

Camp Girls being silly goofy

How silly can we be? Around here we enjoy answering that question on a daily basis. It’s another special aspect of camp; it encourages children to celebrate their goofy side, to forget briefly the personal decorum they so carefully guard, and which parents and teachers so urgently strive to form. Camp provides a license to relive the freedom of childhood experimentation, to twist things around, to feel good about letting your inner creative energy express itself however it may.  And significantly, being goofy at camp is something we do just for the fun of it, not to achieve some goal or to be recognized as “the best.” Around here, we— and yes, all of us campers, staff members and directors alike! —are quick to make a silly face for photos, to throw on a crazy costume, to take on a bizarre character in a skit, to sing a nonsense song during lunch, or perhaps bust into a wild dance move waiting for the dinner bell. All of this feels really good too.  It’s remarkable when there are this many fun-loving people together, all within a broad camp culture that inspires creative silliness. Sure we have our serious sides too, but I hope you can see why Rockbrook has has been called a goofy camp, and why we think that’s a very good thing!

Camp friends eating a fresh muffin

Did you know that everyday between the first and second activity periods, the entire camp converges on the dining hall porch for “Muffin Break?” It’s true, Katie, the Rockbrook Baker, begins each morning by baking a surprise flavor of muffin for everyone.  That means powering up her giant mixer, then scooping and baking 300 yummy treats. Her flavors are fun and creative (maybe a little silly?). For example, today she made “White Chocolate Chip and Apricot,” and other days she’s baked us “Confetti,” “Up-Side-Down S’mores,” “Key Lime Pie,” and a big favorite, “Pumpkin Chocolate Chip.” This is a wonderful treat, easily a favorite part of everyone’s day.

Girl proud of her weaving

One of the old (circa 1888) log cabins at Rockbrook is called “Curosty” and it is the home of our fiber arts activities. It’s wonderful to wander in during the day and see girls weaving, working away on several floor looms, tabletop looms, and lap looms, creating complex patterned material using yarns and strips of cloth. Kimberly, Carol and the other instructors are helping the girls this summer make headbands, bookmarks, straps, and large table mats. Weaving is such an ancient art, and in this historic cabin, it’s neat that these quite modern Rockbrook girls really take to it, ask great questions, are learning all the basic skills, and making some very cool projects. Weaving has always been an activity at Rockbrook, so it’s also neat to see it so popular even today.

Camp Girls canoeing down a river

Emily and Christina, two of the women on our adventure staff this summer, took a group of girls canoeing down the French Broad River this morning. With snacks packed (some of the morning’s muffins!) and all the necessary equipment loaded on a trailer, they put onto the river upstream from camp in Rosman, NC. This section of the river is just right for a leisurely paddle with its wide course, gentle curves and manageable current. There is also the occasional (class I) rapid to keep things exciting. Large trees line most of the river making it the perfect habitat for water birds like the Belted King Fisher, for example. The weather for today’s trip was ideal too. Cool air and warm sun made it an magnificent day on the water.

happy Sliding Rock girls
Sliding Girls

Since this afternoon was cabin day, a day when we switch gears from our regularly scheduled activities and instead do things together as cabin groups, we gathered all of the Senior cabins and took a gigantic trip to Sliding Rock. It was gigantic because when we added everyone up, this trip included 111 people! Like a train of white vans and buses, including a couple of cars for extra staff members, we drove our group into the Pisgah Forest for a picnic dinner and a few field games before arriving at the Rock. Zipping down a natural water slide formed by an icy mountain creek… Maybe freezing cold creek, would be more accurate … and plunging into a deep pool at the bottom might sound unbearable, but for the Senior girls tonight it was all thrills. Screams, splashing, chattering teeth, a few blue lips, but also wide, enthusiastic smiles were true to form all night.

The last stop for the evening was to “warm up” with a cone of Dolly’s ice cream, proclaimed by many campers as “the best ice cream ever!” This is a chance to try one the flavors named after the many camps in the area, like “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion” or “Carolina Iceberg Blast.” Warmed and energized by this blast of sugary cream, we enjoyed singing the Senior Song, posing for a few photos, and having a grand time together.

Camp girls at Dolly's Dairy Bar

That Satisfying “Thunk”

Today we took our first outdoor adventure trip with the campers, and it was a great one. Two buses and a van of senior- and middler-aged campers took the day to go whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River over in Swain County. We departed right after breakfast, and with a brief snack/bathroom stop we arrived at the river for an early picnic lunch at Ferebee park. The sun was warm and bright as the whole crew munched on the sandwiches, chips and fruit Rick packed for us. A short drive up river to the put-in, we met the Rockbrook guides who had our rafts and all the equipment we would need (lifejackets, paddle, helmets, etc.) ready to go.

Kids Whitewater Rafting

As you may know, Rockbrook is the only girls camp that has a permit to run its own rafting trips down the Nantahala. This allows us to have our own gear, hire our own expert guides, schedule the trips to our liking, and send down the river as many campers as we need without having to charge extra fees. Rockbrook was awarded this permit back in the 1980s, and since the Forest Service is not issuing any new permits, we are lucky to have it. Rafting has easily become the most popular adventure trip at Rockbrook, with just about every Middler and Senior taking the opportunity. Our permit doesn’t allow us to raft our Juniors because of age and weight restrictions. Today’s trip was perfect… Beautiful sunny warm weather, very few other rafts on the water, exhilarating moments in the rapids, and fun splashing around during the calmer parts of the river. Singing, sometimes screaming, chatting and laughing all the way down, these girls were having a ball.

Camp Kid Weaver
Girls Aims Archery bow and arrow

Meanwhile back at camp, the looms in Curosty, our fiber arts cabin, were clicking with girls weaving headbands and placemats. Curosty is one of the early buildings erected at Rockbrook that, along with the Goodwill cabin, was moved here so it predates the camp. It once was used as the camp office but now it is filled with colorful yarns, tabletop and floor looms, and girls learning an ancient craft. The whole space, filled with calm yet highly creative energy, evokes a wonderful, timeless feeling.

Down the hill toward the gym, the archery range was busy with girls firing arrows at their targets. Learning the proper way to handle the archery equipment and the important safety rules of the range are the first steps, and then with a little coaching about technique, it doesn’t take long for campers to be able to pull back an arrow and hit the target. It’s such a satisfying sound, that “thunk” the arrow makes when it hits. It’s an even more satisfying sound to hear the girls’ cheers when someone hits a bullseye, and thereby joins the “bullseye club.”

Rockbrook Camp Counselors

I wanted to call your attention to an short article by Michael Thompson recently published in the New York Times. Thompson is the author of Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow, a book where he examines the character development benefits that come from a sleepaway camp experience. He believes that letting children go, taking breaks from the shelter and protection we parents instinctively provide, is an important milestone in a child’s development. In his NYT article, entitled “Why Camp Counselors Can Out-Parent Parents,” he makes the same point by observing that camp counselors are, different from parents, “super cool,” admirable role models that kids want to learn from. The counselors at Rockbrook are well-trained, have excellent inter-personal skills, are full of enthusiasm for life, and are simply down-to-earth, genuine good people. They are just the kind of “parents” we’d all be proud to call our own.

A Treasury of Firsts

Fresh Tamale Making crew

Over the last two days, Rick and his friends in the Rockbrook kitchen, have been preparing a special treat for us, and today we all enjoyed it. You may be able to tell from this photo, but the treat was authentic homemade, completely from scratch, tamales. A tamale is an ancient, traditional Mesoamerican dish made from finely ground corn, lime, oil and stock combined into a paste, spread into a corn husk with meats or peppers as fillings, and then cooked by steaming.
Each one requires the masa (corn dough) and filling be combined and rolled in the corn husk by hand. But it doesn’t stop there. In addition, the chicken used for the filling is first roasted an shredded off the bone, but then combined with a homemade Guajillo chili sauce, which gives it a bright red color. They also made a green variety using tomatillos, serrano peppers, onion and garlic. For the vegetarians, they steamed a cheese and Ancho chili pepper variety. Can you see why this took two days, especially when almost 700 tamales needed to be made? And the results… Unbelievably delicious. Certainly many of the girls and a few of the counselors had never before tasted a treat like this, but like many of the “firsts” experienced around here— first ride on a zip line, first time shooting a gun, first time cantering a horse —camp is a great place to give it a try. There’s just the right amount of encouragement and “positive peer pressure” to give hesitant girls a little nudge outside of their routine, to challenge their assumptions.

Girl show success on the pottery wheel
Camp girl show success on loom weaving

Naturally, at a camp like Rockbrook, with almost 30 different activities and a special event or surprise planned almost everyday, the opportunities for first experiences are diverse and abundant. The girls here can do some amazing stuff, and even if they’ve already felt the chill of Sliding Rock in Pisgah, climbed a real rock using those amazing “sticky” shoes, or enjoyed a long-range mountain view after hiking a steep trail to a rock cliff, for example, it will be a first for them to do it with these people, with this all-girl group of comfortable friends. The same is true for throwing their first pot on the wheel, seeing beautiful cloth take shape off their loom, learning the “trick” to a one-handed cartwheel. There are so many examples! A girl’s experience at camp is a treasury of firsts that she’ll hold dear for many years to come.

Camp Girls Friends Success

It’s significant, too, that this special place for first experiences, this close-knit camp community defined by respect and cooperation, makes it easy to feel successful, and thereby fosters girls’ self-esteem. We’ve written before about the link between success and self-esteem at camp, so please take a look. There’s the good feeling of discovering a hidden talent when you first try something, a sense of personal achievement, but there’s also success to be found in general “social competence,” and in being included in group endeavors. Since so many of the firsts at camp happen in this positive social setting, they tend to be far less frightening. Knowing that you’ll be supported no matter what individual outcome occurs, seeing other girls laugh and enjoy unfamiliar activities, really helps make any first experience a success and thereby a real boost to a girl’s growing self-esteem.

Our twilight activity tonight was everyone’s favorite, a shaving cream fight down on the grassy sports field. It began with everyone interested (like all twilight activities, it was optional), dressed in their swimsuits, lining up along one side of the field. On the other side, we scattered about 120 cans of plain shaving cream. At the signal, everyone ran to grab a can and then to let their foam fly. Complete mayhem ensued, and in about 30 seconds, everyone had shaving cream on their backs, stomachs and in their hair. That’s basically the point of it, like this photo shows so well; it’s to sneak up on your friends and mischievously “get them” with the white foam. And oh what big fun this is!  It almost feels a little naughty to spray people, but it’s also pretty hilarious to do. We also pulled out the slip-n-slide for a now extra slippery ride. With everyone basically covered, in some cases completely covered, and all the shaving cream cans emptied, we rinsed off a bit under the hoses and headed up to camp for a warm shower. Another first at camp? Perhaps, but certainly a good one too.

Camp girls are mischievous with shaving cream
Camp Girls with shaving cream
Camp girls in group shaving cream fight

Loom Weaving at Summer Camp

Craft Weaving Summer Camp

One of the most traditional arts and crafts activities at Rockbrook is weaving. It’s been something girls have done at camp since the very beginning back in 1921. In the craft cabin we call Curosty (which even pre-dates camp!), there are several table-top and floor looms we use to teach basic weaving techniques. It takes some time to set things up and to learn how to operate the looms, but you can make really cool designs. Bits of yarn and string, even natural fibers you gather around camp, all come together to create fabrics, place mats, belts, and other straps. Weaving is a lot of fun, and if you really enjoy it, it’s something you can do at home too.