The Magic of Camp

Today campers began a new rotation of activities, and experienced a regular Monday at camp. While this may seem pretty unexciting, a typical day at camp is actually when the magic happens. Although adventure trips and special Rockbrook surprises are important and provide unique experiences for campers, there is something special and valuable about having a regular day of camp.

Girls at camp playing tennisIn activities, girls are able to connect with other campers and counselors of their age group, or line, who may not be in their cabin. They get to practice and learn new skills at the same time as building relationships. Campers don’t need to go on the zip line or a hike to be pushed out of their comfort zone. Swimming, curosty, or climbing at camp can challenge girls and allow them to grow, while being alongside their peers and counselors.

Free swims are also valuable because twice a day campers can choose their own adventure. For example, they might go to the lake to swim mermaid laps, join in with Rockbrook runners club to run on the trails, or simply sit on the hill and make friendship bracelets. The options are only limited by campers’ imaginations! It is important for girls to have this sense of independence and ability to make their own decisions as they are growing up. These free times throughout the regular camp day allow girls to have the social and physical space to be themselves as well as the space to let their imaginations run wild.

A regular day at camp also leads campers to some special places around Rockbrook’s property. One path leads past the tennis courts, the Carrier House, and lower pottery to a tunnel that goes underneath Greenville Highway, so girls can safely get to the barn. It’s a fun experience to walk down the wooded path, through the darkened tunnel, and pop out on the other side to a scene of green pastures, the horses, and the winding French Broad River. Up in the main part of camp, girls absolutely love to play in the two creeks at the foot of the hill. One creek is diverted from Rockbrook Falls and feeds into the lake, providing us with fresh mountain water to swim in. The other creek comes from Stick Biscuit falls, and winds its way underneath the Dining Hall, past Goodwill, behind Curosty, and down the mountain. There is almost no need to ever leave camp for trips, as we are fully immersed in the beauty of nature right here at Rockbrook!

Trips and special events are certainly beneficial to the overall camp experience, but it is important to remember how special a regular day at camp can be all on its own. The small moments, the in-betweens, the laughs and friends—these are what add up to create a camper’s Rockbrook experience. The magic of camp is already present in the people, places, and spaces at camp, so we hope the campers take every moment they have to experience that magic.

Horse playing

It Leads to a Moment

girl on adventure bridgeWhenever the adventure staff announces that trips through the Rockbrook Zip Line course will be offered, there’s always a buzz among the girls. It’s a special trip open to everyone, no matter how old (yes even the smallest Juniors!), and we offer it almost everyday at camp, easily filling each group of 8 throughout the day. The trips take about an hour, so they nicely fit into our activity schedule. Our Zip course is uniquely woven into the forest above the dining hall, among several huge rock faces, old-growth trees, rhododendron thickets, and even a 50-foot waterfall.  With their harnesses, helmets and pulleys, the girls first hike along a trail to the first zip, a 200-foot, low angle ride across the front of Stick Biscuit falls. The second ride is faster, and flies the girls from one rock face to another about 40-feet above a deep contour in the forest floor. Then come the bridges, three different ones in all, challenging the girls to balance and hold on as they traverse to the final zip. That one launches from a rock ledge and screams 450 feet back into the camp, finishing right near the office building. The whole experience is a thrilling, immersive adventure into the natural beauty of camp.

wheel pottery girlBoth pottery studios have taken to the wheels today. Learning to throw on the wheel is often a goal of the girls who choose pottery for one of their four regular activities, eager to move past the basic hand-building techniques using slabs and coils of clay. It’s so much fun for the girls, almost magical when a ball of clay, perfectly centered on the wheel, slowly takes shape into a simple bowl. Zach and Joe, our long-time head pottery instructors, plus the counselors assigned, are right by the girls’ side assisting as they work on this skill. It can be frustrating at first, but with practice, and perhaps with some encouragement from the staff, the girls quickly feel successful. That look of understanding followed by pride at the moment a camper finally pulls up the clay on a spinning wheel —it’s really cool to see.

kayak roll learning at lakeThe same sort of progression— practice leading to understanding and accomplishment —happens down at the lake when campers begin learning to roll a whitewater kayak. What begins completely disorienting (being upside down, under water, in a boat) can become simply a moment to perform another maneuver. It begins for girls by learning to slip out of their flipped kayak, learning to “wet exit” —a crucial first step before taking any kayak trip. From there, girls practice a sequence of carefully timed movements (hip snap, paddle placement, etc.) that allow them to right their boat without exiting it. It’s not easy to “get their roll,” but we’ve seen most girls master it over time. Believe me, if your daughter is working on it, you’ll hear about it the moment she finally gets her roll. It’s a truly exciting achievement.

All is well at Rockbrook as we have moved through the week. Glorious weather has provided even more liveliness to what’s already a spirited bunch. Both campers and counselors have grown more confident and comfortable, making each moment even better. It’ll be great fun to watch this continue!

girls camp group

An Eruption of Camp Life

weaving kid at campkid shooting rifleLet’s get right to the activities! That’s what every girl at camp was thinking as we finished breakfast this morning. Soon, counselors and campers alike filled every corner of camp with enthusiastic action. Amazing complex weavings seemed to spring from the looms in no time. Clay sculptures, friendship bracelets, decorative paper calendars, and small paintings became creative realities. Sports too!  Girls learned about firing rifles, shooting arrows and hitting tennis balls. The lake was busy all day despite some lingering drizzle parts of the day. The horseback riding staff taught their first mounted lessons. The adventure staff took girls on a hike to see a nearby waterfall and several groups flew overhead on the Rockbrook zip line course. The performing arts staff  introduced new songs, and our Yoga instructor taught girls their first poses and relaxation techniques.  It was an impressive eruption of camp life!

During their free time— three different 45 minute blocks  —the girls enjoyed freshly baked muffins as a mid-morning snack, waterslide rides and diving board tricks at the lake, for some a chance to walk or run “Charlotte’s loop,” and games of gaga ball, more tennis, and even more tetherball. After dinner, the sun was practically blinding as groups of girls sat on the hill to watch an amazing, cloud-marbled sunset.

zip line through the treesWhat a luxury to have this kind of free, unhurried, self-directed time! When the rest of the year is often completely scheduled, camp gives girls a chance to decide for themselves what they’d like to do. They (not their parents) select their camp activities. They (not their teachers or coaches) decide how to spend their time. Camp provides extraordinary opportunities, and exactly the right kind of encouragement to try new things at each girl’s individual pace. If you’ve ever wondered how to inspire children to be more independent and self motivated, this is it. You give them a real chance to do things on their own!  Camp supports and empowers kids in this way, and it can make a big difference for them long after the closing campfire.

Of course, we’re just getting started. Everyone is settling in nicely at camp, making quick new friends as we share this time together in “the heart of a wooded mountain.” Take some time to browse through the photo gallery and you’ll see what I mean. Meanwhile, let’s us know if you have any questions, or better yet, write your camper a letter or an email.  She’ll love it!

teen girls holding muffins

Dancing and Dashing

It’s cabin day! That’s the time, Wednesday afternoons specifically, when instead of going to individual activities, the girls do something as a cabin group. For regular daily activities everyone signs up for their own set of four, so this is a nice time when all the girls living in a cabin can enjoy a special activity together.

sliding rock shock girls creek slide Zip Creek Girls

All of the Middler (5th and 6th grade girls) cabin groups had their cabin day together taking a trip into the Pisgah Forest for a dinner picnic, field games, wild rides down a sloping waterfall, and an ice cream treat. We loaded all of our vehicles for the short ride up into the forest to our favorite picnic area that has a shelter and a large grassy field. Hot dogs with all the fixings, chips and watermelon (so much watermelon for 94 people!) fueled us up for the after dinner games. We played “Everybody up,” the “Human knot” challenge, and a huge game of “I’m a Rockbrook Girl,” a clear favorite whenever we’re out away from camp. There was a slight sprinkle for about 30 minutes during our games, but it was only a minor nuisance, and if anything more, an added thrill for the girls dancing and dashing about in the grass.

NC waterfall swimming kidsIce Cream Face ChildrenCamp Girls PoseCamp Girls WaterfallBack in the vans and buses, we next were all at Sliding Rock for a good hour and half of classic mountain forest fun. For many of these Middlers this was their first trip to Sliding Rock, and as they sat in the chilly, fast moving water at the top of the 60 foot-long slide, and plunged into the pool below, they very quickly understood why this trip is so popular with the older campers. It’s amazing fun! The ride down is loud from the roaring waterfall and the cheering friends watching. It’s cold, even “freezing,” from the whitewater splashing all about, and from the swim at the end. It’s exhilarating as you accelerate down the rock toward the splash awaiting at the end. As it began to get dark, we finished up our sliding, said goodbye to the rock, and next found ourselves at Dolly’s Dairy Bar. Conveniently located at the entrance to the Forest, we now have a tradition of stopping for a sweet, also “freezing,” treat before heading back to camp. The folks at Dolly’s are experts at moving a huge group of campers along as they select their favorite flavor. It might be one of the special camp flavors they’ve concocted (Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion, for example), or something more common like peppermint. Licking our cones, then spontaneously singing camp songs, happily chatting along in the red and white glow of Dolly’s outdoor lights, it wasn’t long before it was time to head back to camp for some warm clothes and a cozy camp cabin.

Meanwhile, other cabin groups had different plans. A couple of groups went camping at the outpost site under Dunn’s Rock. This is a beautiful campsite on the Rockbrook property that includes an arrangement of huge boulders, massive old trees, the nearby creek, and a simple fire ring of stones arrange many years ago by former campers. A group of Junior campers hiked up to Stick Biscuit Falls, the waterfall up the mountain a bit behind the dining hall. It’s the smallest of the waterfalls on the camp property, but is a fun place to explore and feel the spray of water created by the falls hitting the rocks below. The Hi-Ups had a blast zooming through the trees on the Rockbrook Zip Line course. With 3 zip lines and 3 suspension bridges, it took them about an hour to run through the whole course. A group of Junior campers took a quick trip into Dupont State Forest for a swim at Hooker Falls, which has a bright sunny pool to enjoy. Another Junior group headed down to the garden to pick flowers and then make fairy houses back in camp under a hemlock tree. A cabin of Seniors decided to make “Spa face treatments” using avocado, yogurt and coffee grounds… a little silly certainly, with perhaps dubious benefits.

Mixing things up on Cabin day.  Oh so good!

Teen Girls Face Mask

Easy Going Excitement

Camp Painting ClassThis first week of camp continues to settle into a comfortable pace just as it seems also to energize with enthusiasm. We could call the feeling “easy going excitement.” That may sound odd, but it’s one of the magical aspects of camp life. It starts with the people here at Rockbrook. There’s such a strong sense of community glued together by kindness, caring and cooperation, it’s typical for our daily encounters with everyone to be encouraging and positive. It’s part of the camp culture. We do what we can to help each other, with, for example, cabin chores or getting ready for an activity. We share— gosh almost everything! —costumes for skits, friendly greetings, songs, and virtually non-stop conversation, for example. There’s very little competition to distort this sense of bonding, no real ranking or struggle for power over someone else since noncompetitive, just-for-the-fun-of-it play rules the day.

With this kind of easy, pleasant personal interaction being the warp of your day, when you can count on this kind of true community encouragement, the weft of new and perhaps challenging experiences are perfectly supported. Instead of being scary or “too difficult to try,” new activities become intriguing opportunities. The comfort, care and support of the camp community makes new challenges exciting, even thrilling because any sort of “failure” that might follow is easily cast aside as a first attempt, as an opportunity to be silly or to laugh with friends. Knowing you’re accepted by those around you helps soften insecurity and defensiveness in the face of imperfection. In this way, the inevitable struggle, whether minor or major, we all encounter when grappling with some new activity, skill, or emotional situation becomes a concrete opportunity to learn and grow rather than something to duck.  This fabric of support and challenge, woven from the newness of camp and a mindset engendered by a positive, relationship-focused culture, makes true what we’ve said for decades; “Rockbrook is a place for girls to grow.”

You might by familiar with the notion of a “Growth Mindset,” coined by Stanford professor Carol Dweck in her best-selling book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. It has become a well-known concept championed by all sorts of educational institutions. Contrasting with a “Fixed Mindset,” which combines a relatively deterministic worldview with a belief that innate personal abilities like intelligence, creativity and talent are static, a “Growth Mindset” begins with the opposite core beliefs, that individuals can grow and learn, that obstacles, criticism and challenges are valuable opportunities to develop, change and grow. Dweck found that people with a strong growth mindset are more inclined to work hard, apply novel strategies, accept input from others to continually learn, and as a result tend to achieve more while enjoying a greater sense of free will. You can see why educators love this notion and are always advocating a growth mindset in their students.

Rockbrook too! Living here at camp, buoyed by the caring supportive community of friends, it’s much easier for our girls to adopt a growth mindset and to experience the feeling of success that often follows. We’re not worried about innate talents here. Instead, there is a real spirit of experimentation, of knowing that what’s new and challenging can also be surprising and fun. When we’re always ready to celebrate simply being together, no matter what the outcome, the process of stretching ourselves becomes a constant joy.  Camp proves it everyday; a growth mindset is fun and rewarding.  So cool!

Before I sign off, I wanted to mention the awesome trip the Senior girls took to Sliding Rock this evening. We first headed into the Pisgah Forest for a dinner picnic and a few group games. The girls loved playing “I’m a Rockbrook Girl” and dashing about in the grass. At Sliding Rock, the water seemed colder than usual, but that didn’t discourage most of the girls from zipping down the rock multiple times. We had the whole place to ourselves, so it was easy for everyone to slide as many times as they liked. And all that cold water didn’t cool the girls’ enthusiasm for a stop at Dolly’s and a cup or cone of their favorite ice cream. For everyone, it was a classic camp night out with good food, lots of shrill laughter, some challenging outdoor adventure, and time with our very best friends.

NC Sliding Rock Kids Girls Sliding Rock

Rock and Brook

Set here in the mountains of western North Carolina, the topography of Rockbrook is really something special. Within its 220 acres, the camp includes amazing natural features including prominent rock outcroppings, waterfalls, creeks and the French Broad River. If you haven’t seen it already, watch this video and then scroll through the posts in this archive about our area in North Carolina. You’ll be impressed by the natural beauty of the camp property and its surrounding area.

After learning more about the camp topography, you’ll quickly realize that when Henry P. Clarke, the father of the camp’s founder Nancy Barnum Clarke Carrier, named this property “Rockbrook,” it was a particularly apt name. Situated between (and below!) two rock landmarks (Dunn’s Rock and Castle Rock), with numerous boulders scattered all around the camp, and as three named creeks (Dunn’s Creek, Rockbrook Creek and Hanty Branch) and several smaller tributaries of the French Broad river carve rocky courses through the camp, the terrain here is very much both stone and water, rock and brook.

camp kid zip line ride

Our camp program benefits from these topographical features in a number of exciting ways. There are excellent hiking destinations for example: the magnificent mountain view from the top of Dunn’s Rock, the spray to be felt at the bottom of Stick Biscuit Falls, and the mysterious “Kilroy’s Cabin” found only by bushwhacking for more than a mile through the woods. We have 5 different climbing routes on Castle Rock to tackle, and down below, a nice sandy eddy we can use to launch or take out canoe trips on the French Broad River. A particularly cool example, though, is our camp zip line course since the zips are built between boulders and over creeks. It takes about an hour to do the whole course— 3 zips and 3 challenging adventure bridges —and it continues to be one of the more popular optional activities we offer. The last zip is the fastest and goes right past the office building at the top of the hill giving everyone on the porch a front row seat to see the aerial poses, wide-eyed grins, and hear the yelps of delight multiple times each day.

gaga ball game

Equally popular this session, though for different reasons, has been Ga-ga Ball. Played down near our gym in a special octagonal court of 30-inch high wooden walls, GaGa is a form of dodgeball that’s nicely fast-paced, and well-suited for multi-age groups of girls. Three people or thirty people can play, so it’s a great “pick up game” for the girls during their periods of free time each day (before lunch and dinner, and during Twilight in particular). The object of Gaga is to avoid being hit in the legs by a soft ball as it bounces around inside the court after being hit (not thrown) by the players. It takes quick reflexes to jump out of the way as the ball bounces wildly off the walls of the court and the other players alike. Once hit, a player hops out of the court dwindling the number of girls still playing. As the game progresses and one person is left (the winner), the game is over, and everyone can hop back into the court to start a new game. Perpetual play!

camp girl dancing

Tonight’s Evening Program allowed us to dress up, be silly, and go a little wild on the dance floor. We held an all-girl “glow dance” down in the gym. Without much encouragement, the girls dressed in tie dye t-shirts and other colorful costumes. We pulled out neon face paint to add dots, swirls and stripes of color to their looks, and when we handed out a few hundred glow sticks, dimmed the lights in the gym, and began pumping out upbeat, popular music, we had a fun dance party.  No boys, no pressure, no judgment: there was just unbridled excitement and glee as song after song got the girls dancing.  And these girls know how to have fun in the groove! —lots of jumping to the beat, well-rehearsed dance moves now and then, and plenty of hands-in-the-air, singing-along choruses.  It was another great camp event celebrating the fun of being together, feeling happily relaxed and pulled into an activity so thoroughly that you forgot most everything else and time flew by… so good, and just how we all like.

All girl glow stick dance

A Friendly Fear

Last week, there was an open spot on a zip lining trip, and, since I have the greatest job in the world, I filled it. It was the first time I had been on our new, expanded zip line course, complete with three zip lines, one tight rope, and two rope bridges. I am not ashamed a bit to admit that my heart was beating double-time the whole time I was up there.

Keeping an Eye OutAnd I definitely was not alone in that sensation. Most of the girls that I was with had done the zip line before, and jumped out into thin air every time without a second thought. But hanging back in the back of the line with me was one brand new camper, whose eyes were just as wide as mine felt. She turned to me just before we got to the first zip line, and said, “I’ve never felt like this before.”

I asked her what she was feeling, and she listed out sweaty palms, dry mouth, beating heart—in short, she described fear. Here she was, far from home, standing high on a mountain, and she was feeling, for the first time in her life, fear. Now, she knew of course that she was wearing a harness, a helmet, and that she was hooked onto each line by two different tethers. She knew, intellectually, that she was safe. But that doesn’t stop the body’s natural reaction to the contemplation of jumping off a high rock face.

Suiting UpBut still, despite her fear, she jumped.

Most of our campers, thank goodness, lead relatively safe lives. They can go through whole days, weeks, and months without feeling the rush of adrenaline that comes along with fear, and this is certainly not a bad thing. Still, in our modern, comfortable world, it can be easy to forget the immense benefits of fear.

Let me clarify that by fear, I don’t mean the spine-tingling fear associated with horror movies or true danger. I mean that moment of breathlessness felt at the base of the Alpine Tower, looking up. I mean the bottom dropping out of your stomach when you’re about to go down the Nantahala Falls in a raft. I mean the way a heart can clench in nervousness when you’re stepping out of the car on Opening Day. I mean the way a tongue can tie itself up in knots when meeting new friends.

I mean the true discomfort of being utterly outside of your comfort zone.

Here at camp, we live outside of the comfort zone. We brush our teeth in sinks shaped like troughs, we live in cabins with screens instead of windows, we try new things each and every day that seem crazy and terrifying. We push ourselves, in a safe environment, to challenge ourselves, grow, and find new limits to our bravery.

Flying HighAnd yes, this can be scary. It can be terrifying. But it can also be a transformative experience. That fear can precede the moment in which a girl decides that she wants to spend the rest of her life paddling, rock climbing, or even just putting herself out there and trying new things. That fear can precede a moment of true growth.

My zip lining buddy grew that day. I knew it the moment she flung herself off onto the final zip line—the longest and fastest zip line. I heard her scream out in joy, and saw her smiling hugely as she went zooming away. She met me on the other side (after my own breathless ride), with her cheeks flushed, and her smile undiminished.

“That,” she told me, “was awesome.”

Blurred Emotions

Camp Girls OnlyIt’s hard to say goodbye, but it’s especially difficult to leave good friends, and even more so when it may be a whole year before you see them again. That’s how we all felt this morning as the first July Mini Session campers finished their time at Rockbrook this summer— a little melancholy, wistful, even confused about what to do next. For everyone at camp, today marked a change. The Full Session girls suddenly had fewer camp companions, making most things feel oddly vacant, and the Mini Session girls were abruptly returned to the “real world” as parents began arriving by car. Reuniting with family members (parents, siblings and pets!) while simultaneously departing from their camp community… it can be an intense blur of emotions. As the goodbyes spread across the morning, it was very clear to me that these girls will miss each other. We hope the many wonderful memories gained this session will sustain their new friendships until next summer. Thanks to everyone, this first July mini session was a great one!

Zipline Camper GirlMeanwhile, camp life carried on at Rockbrook with adventure trips heading out of camp (a whitewater kayaking trip to section IX of the French Broad River for example) and the full array of in-camp activities in action. Both morning activity periods took a full slate of girls through our new zip line course.  This summer we expanded our existing zip course by debuted two new zip lines and two different additional suspension bridges. Now when girls sign up, they spend an hour on the course, zipping high above tall rhododendron bushes, maneuvering over the different bridges, and screaming past the new office building for the 450-foot final zip. The entire course is beautifully harmonized with the natural features of camp, the massive rocks and waterways in the forest here. The first zip, for example, is a gentle ride, about 60 feet in the air, between rock faces that frame Stick Biscuit Falls. The course is truly a special experience. Calling it “scenic” would be a serious understatement, and the girls love it!

Lake Relaxing in the sunWarm summertime weather (high temperatures in the upper 80s) has been inspiring a great deal of activity at the Rockbrook lake lately. Not so much sun bathing —though there’s been some of that too— the girls have been swimming their “mermaid laps” increasing their tallies, inventing crazy poses flying through the air off of the diving board, zooming down “Big Samantha” our water slide, and just relaxing on a tube aimlessly floating in the cool water. Bright warm sunshine and the chilly mountain lake water make a wonderfully refreshing combination. It’s almost irresistible, prompting even several directors to join the crowd of campers getting wet during the open “free swim” periods before lunch and dinner. On days like this, the lake, like the dining hall during meals, is a community meeting place where everyone, campers and staff members, young and old alike, gather to enjoy the water and each others company. It’s a delightful place all day long.