Little Paths at Twilight

My favorite part of everyday is Twilight– the time at camp between dinner and Evening Program. Our themed dinners, special trips, or crazy songs aside, dinnertime is pretty self-explanatory. At Evening Program, girls from different age groups retreat to their respective lodges to put on silly skits before ending the day with the traditional Goodnight Circle song and the Rockbrook Prayer.

While these other parts of the day are fun, I feel such a deep sense of love and appreciation for camp at Twilight. The day’s activities have brought the girls out of their shells: Juniors chase each other down the hill in front of their lodge; the tetherball pole hosts a crowd of audience members and competitors; and others enjoy quirky activities put on by counselors. Many times, Evening Program brings a special event that was announced during dinner and girls busily dress up accordingly during Twilight.

Tonight’s Twilight was particularly wonderful. Everyone felt energized after our first full day of camp with the new group of mini-session campers, and the newly arrived campers clearly felt more settled in after an exciting day of trying new things and getting familiar with cabin mates and counselors.

One group of counselors brought biodegradable soap down to the creek for “Mermaid Baths.” Campers bounced down the hill in their bathing suits to soap up their hair, feet, and arms in the cold water. Note: We have made sure that campers know that these do not substitute actual bathing, no matter how much more fun the process!

Another group circled around one another to do yoga. I watched them take in the mountain view from the top of the hill as they practiced tree poses. They giggled as they tried to keep their balance, occasionally using each other to stay standing on one foot.

Two Junior cabins used Twilight to prepare for their Junior Overnight, which departed right as the bell rang for Evening Program. Most had finished packing early and sat enjoying the sunset for the second half of their free time. I spotted them at the ready, sitting among their sleeping bags, pillows, and stuffed animals.

Everything stopped at a certain point during tonight’s Twilight, though. From the hill, we heard “Hello, Rockbrook!” and looked up to discover three or four little figures at the top Castle Rock, the rock face on camp that is a short hike away! Some Hi-Up campers have hiked to the top every single day this session with one of their counselors, and they provided us with a greeting to celebrate. We shouted back, “Hello, Castle Rock!” and girls on the hill waved their arms and delighted in being able to see them wave back.

If you ask me, the best place to enjoy Twilight’s cool golden glow and the merriment on the hill is from Hiker’s Rock. It’s this view of camp that I miss whenever I’m somewhere else, reciting a poem to myself in my head that we read at Spirit Fire. 

“You may think my dear, when you grow quite old
you have left your camp days behind
but I know the scent of woodsmoke
will always call to mind
little paths at twilight
and trails you used to find.”
—Mary S. Edgars, To A Camper

Eagerly in Rhythm

It’s been a day filled with activity time all over camp— on every path something fun, creative, adventurous, challenging or just plain silly to do. After this many days at camp, the girls seem at ease with the daily rhythm yet equally eager to stay busy in all these ways. Here are a few highlights.

Two girls and counselor weaving baskets by the creekcamp girl aiming riflegirl paddling coracle corclcamp yoga kid poseIt’s definitely fun to weave a basket while at camp, but one of the additional joys of basket weaving at Rockbrook is the beautiful setting. When the weather is nice, as it’s been lately, the girls weave next to the creek near Curosty. The cool water feels great on your feet as it also keeps the reeds wet and flexible. When it’s better to stay indoors, the log cabin setting of Curosty is home to the weaving— interesting, colorful fabrics on the floor looms and baskets too.

The yoga activity has been meeting in the hillside lodge, one of the stone meeting lodges at Rockbrook. With their colorful yoga mats neatly arranged on the hardwood floor, the girls today practiced their poses, some silly and others relaxing.

The rifle range is setting records as campers are filling the roster each period and shooting as much as possible. From a prone position, they shoot .22 caliber, bolt-action, single-shot rifles at paper targets 25 meters down the range. While not everyone is tallying high scores just yet, we’ve had a couple of girls join the “Bullseye Club.”

A fun addition to our waterfront area this summer has been three brightly colored “Corcls.” These are round plastic boats designed for one person to paddle. They are inspired by the traditional boats used in Wales called coracles. Our girls have a great time paddling them while sitting, climbing on them, floating in them just chilling in the sun, and even trying to stand up in them.

An overnight camping and canoeing trip returned today from their journey down a section of the French Broad River. A few Middler and Senior girls joined adventure leaders Clyde and Jayne on the trip. They paddled for about an hour on Thursday before finding their campsite and pitching their tents on the river’s edge. It took some practice for a few of the boats to steer correctly and avoid bushes on the side of the river, but they all improved along the way. With their campsite set up and safely under a tarp, the crew ate their dinner of tamales while a rain storm passed, and once in their tents for the evening, everyone enjoyed talking well into the night. One girl summed up the trip like this, “We all had so much fun and we built some close friendships.”

The twilight activity tonight after dinner gave the girls an opportunity to learn salsa dancing. Counselor Sarah Dolce selected music, and with help from several other counselors taught a group of enthusiastic campers basic hand holds, positions and dance moves that make up salsa dances.

Finally, evening program turned to skits in each Line’s lodge. The Junior cabins took turns presenting crazy musicals, while the Middler and Senior cabin groups planned and then enjoyed acting out what they imagined different celebrities would be like at camp. Silly stuff, but hilarious fun to watch.

Camp muffin girls

That Takes Muscle!

George Peterson giving a wood turning demonstrationSanding wood turning projectWe were lucky today to host local artist George Peterson and his wife Margaret (who is an Alumna of RBC) for a workshop on wood turning. George works with wood and is known nationally for his carving, etching and finishings of both functional pieces and sculptures. He’s shown his work across the United States, in New York, San Francisco and Atlanta for example, and recently returned from a gallery opening in Japan. You can see a few examples, including his latest work with old skateboards, on his Web site: The Circle Factory.

Beginning with a block of wood, George demonstrated how a wood lathe spins the block, and when he carefully presses a sharp chisel into the whirling wood, twisty shavings fly away. It’s mesmerizing to see how a uniform bowl is revealed, like it was hiding inside the block of wood. After removing it from the lathe, George then showed the girls how he uses an electric carving tool to shape the bottom of the bowl. The best part was next; giving it a try themselves! With George guiding the tools, the girls took turns working on their own shallow bowls, shaping and sanding them to a smooth finish. After branding each piece with the letters “RBC,” the girls added a coat of mineral oil to bring out the wood’s grain and give the bowls a protective and pleasing shine. George presented 4 workshops throughout the day, giving the 12 girls in each a really cool, unique wooden bowl to keep as memento from their camp session this year.

camp girl weaving on the loom girls in yoga poses at summer camp camp horseback rider girl

Meanwhile, the full range of in-camp activities kept hands and feet busy all day. Badminton in the gym, loom weaving in Curosty, horseback riding down at the stables, yoga in the Hillside Lodge, climbing at the Alpine Tower, swimming at the lake, shooting at the archery and riflery ranges: all examples that come to mind. Action springs up in every corner on a day like this, but also a yummy, mid-morning muffin break, free time before lunch to chill out, and a delicious rest hour before jumping right back in for the afternoon. The pace of our day here at Rockbrook is wonderful.

Fairy garden house at summer campHidden in the shade among the ferns and broad-leafed hostas (which by the way are sometimes called “Plantain Lillies”) just behind the office, a few junior campers have discovered a fairy garden. It’s a delicately cultivated part of the forest really, an area that catches the eye as somehow more alive, more intentional and definitely more beautiful… painted rocks, colorful leaves and flowers, neatly arranged pieces of bark, sticks and lots of moss. After discovering it, it made complete sense to help the fairies be more comfortable, so using popsicle sticks, candle wax, string and beads, the campers built houses for the fairies, one with a back porch and another suspended from a low-hanging branch. On the roof of one house, they made their intentions clear by writing, “Welcome Home.”  Now, thankfully, the fairy garden is a fairy village, proving again, thanks to these generous, creative campers, that Rockbrook is a “Fairyland of Beauty.”

The biggest thrill of the day came after dinner when we held a dance, as Rockbrook has for generations, with the boys of Camp Carolina. The girls eagerly look forward to this night as a chance to clean up a little (which of course means firing all of the camp’s tankless water heaters at once), dress up a little, but really to giggle, be silly (again!), and jump around with each other. Tonight we held two dances simultaneously, the Juniors and Middlers staying here in our gym to dance with the younger boys, and our seniors and Hi-Ups heading over to the CCB dining hall for their dance. At Rockbrook, we invited our friend Marcus (aka, DJ Dawg) to pump out the music. He always does a fantastic job playing songs the girls know, as well as songs with popular dance moves like “Y.M.C.A.” The older girls spent a solid hour and a half dancing, at one point forming a conga line, singing along to the songs, and sweating as the night wore on.  That much dancing takes muscle! A little tired and definitely hot on the bus ride back to Rockbrook, the girls seemed to have all good things to say about our excellent night out.

SR teen camp dance girlsmiddler camp dance for girls

Becoming Someone New

Deep Breath...On this first day of activities—the first full day of camp—I am reminded that camp is more than just a chance to retreat from the rigors of the “real world,” to have some mindless fun and excitement, and to make new friends and reconnect with old ones. Camp is a place in which campers can become someone new every single day.

Downward DogMost of the 207 girls assembled here at Rockbrook this session wear some pretty standard labels for most of the year: student, daughter, sister, class president, team captain, honor roll student, and the like. They will belong to categories like these for a while, before growing up, and gaining some more exciting ones like lawyer, doctor, engineer.

This, of course, is all in the normal course of events.

Kayak Race!What camp does, is give girls a chance to don a whole host of other identities that most people never get to try. In just one day, I have seen the school-girls who were dropped off here yesterday morph into markswomen, mountain climbers, equestrians, basket-weavers, yogis, archers, and more.

Spider-Man DropI heard them swapping stories at lunch and during free swims. Giving each other tips on which side of the Alpine Tower makes for the best climb, as though they have been climbing for their whole lives and not just one morning. Boasting cheerfully about getting their wet-exits in kayaking on the very first day. Showing their cabin-mates the first steps of the dance that they will be premiering in the dance show at the end of the session.

Soaking the ReedsA Junior spent about five minutes this afternoon, explaining to me exactly how long the reeds needed to soak in the stream before they would be pliable enough to make a basket. She had never made a basket before. She was repeating to me what she had heard the instructor say just minutes before. But, in her mind, she was an expert, a basket-weaving professional, when an hour before she had been nothing of the kind.

Perfect FormEvery day, every hour, almost, these campers get to try something new, become something different, and expand a little more. By the end of the session, they might decide that they never again want to be an archer, or a climber, or a basket-weaver—but the hope is that, through all of this experimenting, they will leave here with a bit more of the confidence that it takes to become the varied and interesting women that they will one day grow to be.

A Simple Costume

A Very Cool Setting

Camp Yoga Class
Girls Nifty Knitter

The Hillside Lodge, one of the original three stone lodges built in the 1920s from rock quarried here on the property, is the setting for our Yoga activity. It’s a wonderful space— a smooth, hardwood floor, rough-cut stone walls, a 4ft fireplace with stone mantel, paned windows and thick oak doors. It has very simple log furniture, a few low benches, but is otherwise a nice open space for Line meetings, morning assemblies, and evening programs. During the daily yoga classes, the girls spread out their colorful foam mats on the floor, and Mary Alice, the head instructor, plays calm relaxing music while introducing basic yoga poses and positions. The building is itself beautiful and calm, so it’s the perfect place for doing yoga.

Another very cool setting for one of our camp activities is the shady back porch of the “Curosty” cabin. There you’ll find girls doing needle crafts like knitting, embroidery and cross stitching. This log cabin is one of two (the other being the “Goodwill” cabin) that Mrs. Carrier moved here from her family’s plantation in South Carolina when she founded the camp in 1921. We think both cabins date from before 1888, when her father and mother purchased the plantation.  Cool and breezy, and with the creek quietly gurgling nearby, the Curosty cabin porch is a great place to hang out and knit, and of course chat. Some of the girls are using traditional knitting needles, but these hoop-shaped “Nifty Knitters” have been very popular lately. Working with colorful yarns, these hoops make it easy to weave tubes that become woolen hats. You may have seen photos of a few being worn around camp, in fact.

Camp Lake Rock
Beans and Plantains for Lunch

The lake also comes to mind as a unique part of the environment at Rockbrook. In particular, it’s neat how gigantic rocks frame it, with the biggest being about 25 feet tall next to the water slide. A waterfall constantly tumbles down on one end, and on the other there are two huge flat boulders where the girls can spread their towels and lounge in the sun after swimming. Hidden in the woods among huge trees, and filled by the cold mountain water of Dunn’s Creek, the lake attracts girls all day long. It might be to catch tadpoles, or to cool off in the water, or just to sit nearby, but the lake is a big part of our day at camp. And we love it!

I can’t not mention today’s lunch because it was amazing. Rick made us black beans and posole, and served it with roasted plantains, queso fresco, salsa, sour cream and tortilla chips. The beans had a wonderful smokey, but not spicy, taste that balanced the mild posole (hominy) nicely. Combined with the sweet plantains, it was delicious. Of course the salad bars (which included pasta, chicken, tuna and rice salads, as well as fresh veggies) and peanut butter and jelly station were also seeing plenty of action, but overall I’d say most of the girls tried this traditional Latin American meal. And by many accounts, really enjoyed it.

Camp Drumming Circle

Our after dinner, optional “Twilight” activity was a festival of rhythm and dancing tonight as we welcomed back Billy Zanski for another of his west African drumming workshops. Billy has been playing Djembe for years, has studied under master drummer Bolokada Conde from Guinea, and now teaches private lessons from his drum shop in Asheville. He’s great with the girls and is an enthusiastic instructor. Arriving loaded down with different Djembe and Dundun drums, Billy led us through several rhythms up in the Hillside Lodge with campers and counselors taking turns on all the drums. The dundun bass drums kept everyone together with a core beat while some girls slapped their djembes, and others danced with colorful scarves or responded to Billy’s rhythmic chants. This many drums being played together is loud and infectious, somehow obviously social, and uplifting. In the context of camp, already a place of happy enthusiasm, it’s guaranteed to to be really fun as well.

Slowing It Down

Yoga Camp PoseRifle NamesYesterday, I wrote about the physical activity of camp, highlighting a few of the ways we charge up at Rockbrook, but there are also activities where we ease off a bit and enjoy a slower pace. Yoga is probably the best example. It meets in the Hillside Lodge, and like its twin, the Lakeview Lodge, this building is constructed from massive cut blocks of grey granite, has a 4-foot tall fireplace on one side with a long porch on the other, and a beautiful hardwood floor inside. The Middlers use this Lodge for their Evening Programs, but during the day, it’s a sanctuary of colorful yoga mats, calm music, and relaxation. Mary Alice, our main yoga instructor, leads the girls through flexibility and concentration exercises followed by demonstrations of yoga poses. This might mean simply lying face up on the mat and listening to quiet flute music with hints of lavender oil in the air, and with that concentration established, then sitting up into the “Hero Pose” or “Thunderbolt Pose.” There is plenty of variety according to the age of the girls in the class, but for everyone taking yoga, it is a refreshing experience that nicely balances with other activities in camp.

Riflery could be another example of an activity more focused than frenetic, more composed and concentrated than brisk and busy. Like Yoga, target shooting benefits from first calming down and being aware of your breathing. There’s a stillness to riflery. Once the Instructor gives the standard command to commence firing, the shooters take plenty of time to load each bullet into their bolt-action, .22-caliber rifles, and to take steady aim at the target before firing. When shooting, there is no talking on the rifle range, and with everyone wearing ear protection, only the muffled popping sounds of the rifles can be heard. Scoring each 5-shot target is part of the fun, but I think the girls also enjoy the simple pace of riflery. Here too, it can be a nice change given the tempo of most things at Rockbrook.

Reading a book floating in the lakeRock Climbing Cool GirlHere’s another great example of taking it easy at camp— floating in the lake with a good book during the Free Swim period before lunch (or dinner). Most days, you’ll find a few girls doing exactly that, comfortably settled between the chilly water below and the warm sunshine above. I’d say that’s one of the joys of summer! All of these periods of free time, in fact, can be used to take things a little easier at camp. They are chances not only to follow your own interests, but often to simply take a break as well, whether that be to hang out with a book or take a quick shower.

Rock climbing is, at least in one way, another interesting example of a Rockbrook activity built upon careful concentration rather than rapid coordination. Certainly, it’s physically difficult. It does demand arm and leg strength to stand up on small rock ledges and to grip oddly sloping finger holds. At the same time though, rock climbing is akin to meditation as it too benefits from a calm and attentive state of mind. Successfully climbing a difficult route means ignoring how high you are and slowly working out the balance, hand and foot moves needed. Climbing too fast is sure to mean skipping an obvious hold or lead to awkward movements, making the whole experience more difficult and perhaps frustrating. The best rock climbers will look smooth and fluid, calmly in a state of “flow” as they move up the rock. With all the rock climbing at camp— trips to Looking Glass Rock, Castle Rock, and to our Alpine Tower just today —I think some of the girls are becoming a little obsessed with the feeling of “energized focus” rock climbing provides.

Ah, but we can’t “keep calm” for long around here! Tonight for our twilight activity, for example, we offered a classic, a shaving cream fight and slip ‘n slide.  Put together a mob of enthusiastic girls dressed in their swimsuits, give them about 150 cans of shaving cream, and just get out the way. That’s about all there is to one of the funniest, messiest, craziest, and most squeal-inducing events around.

Shaving Creamed Child Girl Shaving Creamed Shaving Creamed Kid

Frolicking with slippery foam like this, sneaking up and smearing a handful of the stuff in your friend’s hair, feels as exhilarating as it does mischievous. It’s yet another chance to do something rarely allowed at home, and to do it with a huge group of equally enthusiastic friends. It’s amazing that something this simple can be this fun, but it certainly is.

Shaving Creamed Friends

The Secret to Being a Great Camp Counselor

An Excellent Kids Camp Counselor

I had an interesting conversation with a new counselor today. Actually, she was not completely new to Rockbrook, but rather an old camper who had this year become a counselor for the first time. She told me she had discovered “the secret to being a great counselor.” Naturally, I was intrigued, after all, we spend a full week training our counselors before the campers arrive. We talk about dozens of different topics that we know are important to life as a counselor, including health and safety issues, managing cabin social dynamics, special aspects about working with girls, how to teach an activity class, handling homesickness, and so forth. Out of all the content presented that week, I was eager to hear what she now believes is the “secret.”

She said, “You just have to enjoy being with your girls. You have to like them, even love them, and everything else follows from there.” Thinking about it later, there’s a lot of truth to that. Counselors who truly enjoy getting to know their campers, become good friends with them, care for them, are tuned into their needs, support them when they need encouragement, and can easily sympathize with them. When a counselor enjoys her campers’ company, she seeks them out and is quite naturally present to help when needed. With this kind of comfortable relationship, combined with good instincts, certainly some training, and common sense, counselors not only “supervise” well, they also find themselves enjoying their work, laughing and playing with the campers, and really embracing the camp community. And that feels really good. I think this young woman knew she was being a great counselor because both she and her campers were having such a great time. It might not be equally easy to love all of you campers, but that’s the secret to being a great camp counselor.

Silly Kids Camp Yoga Posing
Kids Camp Yoga Pose

Mary Alice Martin has returned this summer to teach our girls Yoga. Held in the Hillside Lodge, which is one of the original stone lodges built in the 1920s, the classes have plenty of room to spread out their yoga mats on the hardwood floor. Mary Alice plays quiet, calming music to encourage relaxation while the girls stretch to warm up, and then introduces a series of yoga poses ranging from easy basic positions like the “Child’s Pose” to more complex examples like the “Side Crane” pose. She’ll also sometimes play a game she calls “Freeze Yoga,” where she plays more uptempo music, and when she stops it suddenly, the girls have to quickly perform a different yoga pose. That too is a lot of fun.

Kid at Camp Loves the Waterslide

This photograph of Sophia conveys beautifully the total delight of our giant water slide,”Big Samantha.” After crossing the dock on the far side of the lake, over the bridge near the waterfall, and climbing the tower steps, it’s a nice long ride down the slippery tarp material before being launched out into the lake. Some girls will hold their nose before hitting the water, and others just fist pump the air and scream their heads off! Either way, it’s a short swim to reach the ladders by the dock, and an easy walk back around to slide again. We open the water slide during both free swim periods (before lunch and dinner), giving all of the girls who passed their swim “demonstration,” even the smallest juniors, plenty of chances to take a ride. For some, that means multiple times each day!

I try not to talk about the weather much in these posts (After all, there are so many more interesting things going on!), but it has been a wonderful week with sunny warm days, the occasional afternoon thunderstorm, and cool evenings.

Finally, I wanted to highlight this photo taken down at the Rockbrook Rifle Range. I just love the smile, the pink hearing protection, the rifle named “Annie Oakley,” and the feeling of relaxed assurance it conveys. Learning to shoot a real .22 caliber rifle can be a little daunting, but these Rockbrook girls are taking to it wonderfully. Odds are you’ll be hearing about the bullseye club very soon.

Camp kid posing while shooting a rifle

Budding Independence

The first full day of the session, as was today, means several things. First, it’s a chance for the campers to become more familiar with the property and activity areas, to get a better sense of where everything is located. Following their camp tour yesterday, now they venture off on their own to the Alpine climbing tower, the Hillside Lodge for yoga, or Curosty for weaving, for example. There are almost 30 different things to do— organized activities available during the scheduled activity periods —and each has a “home” somewhere in camp.

Imagine all the little pockets of activity spread around Rockbrook… Outdoor adventure instructors explaining how to use special equipment, arts and crafts teachers introducing cool sewing, pottery, or weaving projects, horses being tacked up, bows and arrows nocked. If you scan through today’s photo gallery, you can see the variety of things going on. These girls are impressive already!

Young Kid Kayaking Summer camp yoga class Camper learns to weave at summer camp

What’s even more impressive though, and probably more significant in the long run, is the independence this first day of camp has already brought about in your girls. Remember, at Rockbrook, the campers select their own activities while at camp. Often after much discussion with friends about the options, and “what are you gonna take?” kinds of questions, everyone selects 4 different activities they will try for the first half of the week. For each activity rotation, which happens twice per week, the girls themselves decide how to spend their activity time. Furthermore, during the blocks of free time scheduled throughout the day— before lunch, before dinner, and after dinner —the campers can decide to do even more independent things. With a friend, they might head to the lake for a ride down the water slide, go to the tennis courts to hit a few balls, challenge someone at the tetherball court, or just hang out on the grassy hill enjoying the mountain view.

The very structure of our day, in other words, encourages this budding independence for Rockbrook girls. As they select their daily activities (“Riflery or Drama? Hmmm…”) and decide on their own how to spend free time (“I want to go play in the creek!”), as well as navigate from place to place throughout the day, all while listening for the bell to help make it on time, they grow increasingly confident. They learn firsthand that “I can do it myself.”

As you see your girls smiling and enjoying themselves doing any of the regular in-camp activities offered everyday at camp, at least part of that smile arises from the simple satisfaction, and maybe a little pride, that follows her successful experience of independence. And that’s pretty cool stuff.

Camper Screams on zipline Camper proudly displays pottery sculpture archery camp girl shooting