Everyone looks forward to it. It’s a wonderful surprise. It’s a celebration. Some call it a “blow out.” It’s guaranteed to be unique, fantastic, incredible. It takes weeks of planning and hard work preparing. It’s loud and colorful, entertaining and enticing. It’s campy and creative. It makes everyone smile, laugh and dance. Here at camp, it’s a gathering of your very best friends. This is the banquet.
The theme for our third session 2022 banquet was focused on the characters and styling of the Harry Potter book and movie series. The CA girls (9th graders) and their counselors worked their incredible magic to transform the dining hall into the great hall of Hogwarts with its long tables and floating candles.
They painted more than 100 panels depicting scenes from the books- portraits of Sirius Black, Harry Potter, Dumbledore, Dobby, and Nearly Headless Nick.
There were paintings of broom sticks, owls dropping letters, the flying car, Hagrid’s motor bike, wands, chocolate frogs, and Bertie Botts Beans. There was also the Mirror of Erised, Fluffy the 3-headed dog, Fawkes the phoenix, and Hedwig the owl.
They displayed detailed drawings of all four of the Hogwarts House crests: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin.
On the tables, each camper found a pair of Harry Potter glasses, a magical wand, and a Hogwarts Express train ticket. Spider ring and lightning bolt temporary tattoos were there too. Everyone also enjoyed a souvenir cup and of course fun candy treats to help amplify the mood between each course of the meal.
The CA costumes represented an amazing range of Harry Potter characters. The cast list included students from each house, but also some of the Hogwarts professors like Mad Eye Moody, Professor Snape, Professor McGonagall, even Professor Dolores Umbridge. One student dressed up as Dobby the house elf. There were two french Beauxbaton girls. There was also Rita Sceeter, Bellatrix Lestrange, and Hagrid roaming about the banquet.
These characters worked together to perform choreographed group dances to “Magic” by One Direction, “Black Magic” by Little Mix, and “Enchanted” by Taylor Swift. Between those performances, we all got up and danced to other pop songs. This was a dance party filled with a celebratory energy.
The food was magical too! The menu included: “Magic Wands and Potion Chips,” “Mrs. Weasley’s Chicken Tenders,” and “Troll Tater Tots.” The dessert was particularly creative- “Golden Snitches” made of cookie dough balls rolled in gold colored sugar. Each camper had a small can of soda to drink as well.
Whether the campers were familiar with the world of Harry Potter or not, there was a magical, other worldly quality to the whole event. The CA girls transformed the dining hall turning it into a unique, immersive experience like we’ve never encountered before. For some campers, this was their first banquet, and for others this was another great one to remember.
Like one of the main themes in the Harry Potter novels, this banquet was proof of the power of friendship. It was more than it could have been and was elevated above the ordinary because it happened at camp, a place where the girls already know each other, care for each other and feel accepted and encouraged. Smiling, singing and dancing, this banquet had great energy. A magical time together at camp.
These last few days of camp are so relaxed and sweet. The campers who are here now are ones who have really settled into the rhythm of camp life. Homesickness has mostly been resolved, and friendships are deepening with each shared activity, surprise, and silly skit. The campers know that their days here in the heart of a wooded mountain are coming to a close soon and they are clearly savoring these last moments. They are looking forward to seeing family again soon, but many are sad to say goodbye to each other.
Last night, the campers got a chance to participate in one of Rockbrook's oldest traditions: writing for the Carrier Pigeon. This is the name for the yearbook that is compiled and mailed to campers in the winter, and which serves as a warm reminder of carefree summer camp days. It is named for the founder of Rockbrook, Nancy Carrier, and it was started when Rockbrook was just one week old. In doing research for the book that several alumnae and I wrote last year about the history of Rockbrook, I was able to locate nearly all of the Carrier Pigeons from camp's 101 year history. These Carrier Pigeons are a treasure trove of stories, poems, jokes, drawings, and photographs that are in turn touching tributes, impressive feats of adventure, and hilarious tales of Rockbrook life throughout the years.
After dinner last night, we invited the campers to add their contributions to this summer's Carrier Pigeon. We thought you would enjoy a few samples of their work to get a sense of the fun and friendship that the campers are experiencing on a daily basis:
“This year at Rockbrook was my first year. I’ve had a great time and made so many friends and so many memories. But I think I will write about my rafting experience. My cabin, like all, was offered the opportunity to go whitewater rafting. Most of us went and had a great time. If you’ve been whitewater rafting before, you might know that you can sit on the front of the boat and “ride the bull.” I went to ride the bull but it was super slippery so I fell into the ice-cold water. My friends pulled me up by my life jacket. Determined ride the bull, I tried again. I also slipped again and fell into the water again. Our instructor pulled me out of the water with one hand and dropped me into the raft. I was completely numb but laughing. I didn’t try to do it again.”
“Do you remember zipping through the camp, or racing to the lake? Who wouldn’t, when the memories made at RBC will last forever. Do you remember your first day and it already feeling like you have been here for weeks? Do you remember tying your friendship knots or braiding you cabin mate’s hair? Do you remember feeling welcome the second you drove up the hill? Do you remember passing notes during rest hour or making flashlight languages? I bet you remember all these things forever, because at Rockbrook, some of the smallest things take up the most room in our hearts.”
Today, a special group of campers, the CAs (the rising 10th graders) are currently hard at work on setting up the Banquet for the rest of camp. They have draped sheets all around the dining hall and the rest of camp is eating today's breakfast and lunch picnic-style, on the hill. As you probably know, the theme of Banquet is a well-kept secret, and these CA girls have been spending all of their free time working on elaborately-painted decorations, practicing creative skits, creating a clever menu, and generally giving of their own time to create a magical evening for the younger girls. While we cannot yet share the theme for this session's banquet, it is one that is sure to be a fun and memorable one!
Also, a few parents have asked us about the photo gallery and wondering about yesterday. We had a photographer that had a scheduling conflict, but we have lots of photos of today on the way! Thanks for your patience and keep an eye on the gallery to figure out tonight's Banquet theme!
We have another example of Robbie Francis working his filming and editing magic. Robbie was here again last week filming, and now we have this wonderful glimpse into life at camp. We think you’ll love seeing the sweet mood of camp... so much action, so much friendship, and so many happy, relaxed girls.
Be sure to watch it to the end to see a gorgeous drone shot from above camp.
Take a look, and let us know what you think.
Looking back on twelve years at Rockbrook Camp, I am lucky enough to have experienced Rockbrook as a camper, counselor, and now assistant director. I'm filled with a sweet sense of pride and joy when I see junior campers excitedly finding minnows in the creek, middlers walking (with purpose) to muffin break, and senior campers strategizing how to get tortellini refills as quickly as possible. I love watching counselors sing with their campers, lead dance breaks during meals, and teach new skills during activities. Nothing brings me more joy than watching counselors welcome campers into the Rockbrook community.
As I watch campers and counselors navigate their summer at Rockbrook, I am constantly reminded of what I have gained because of camp.
Speaking to an excited Hi-Up counselor looking forward to cabin day, I was reminded today of how appreciative I am that Rockbrook is a community that fosters independence, confidence, and growth. From the youngest campers to our CAs, these skills and qualities are ingrained into life at Rockbrook. Campers are encouraged to choose their own activities, and every activity is open to every age group. Even though some activities have unfamiliar names- Hodge Podge, Curosty, and Folklore, to name a few -campers quickly learn that stepping out of their comfort zones is an experience that is celebrated at Rockbrook.
It's not an unfamiliar sight to see a camper's activity card filled with a variety of activities like horseback-riding, tie-dying, jewelry-making, and rock-climbing. More often than not, campers try to take all these activities in the same day! Of course, there are also plenty of opportunities outside of activities in which campers can experience something they've never done before. The junior overnight is a great first camping experience for our youngest campers, in which the junior cabins spend the night camping at the Rockbrook Junior Outpost. The Junior Outpost is a pair of roofed platforms tucked away on the Rockbrook property, in which juniors make s'mores, learn new songs, and fall asleep under a blanket of stars. The Middlers and Seniors are offered incredibly exciting opportunities to whitewater raft, kayak, hike, and climb on real rock.
One of my favorite trips as a camper was when I got to climb at Castle Rock, the beautiful rock face that overlooks camp. You can climb to the top, shout out your success, and hear campers cheering for you on the hill far below! While all these amazing opportunities are being offered, the motto for encouraging campers is "challenge by choice." These activities are brand-new to many campers, and the Rockbrook community encourages campers to take on new experiences with gusto.
As a former Rockbrook camper, I have benefitted time and time again from these opportunities for growth. I am constantly rewarded for my curiosity and independence, which encourages me to "choose more challenges"- and at Rockbrook, I always come out the other side stronger for it. Life is full of moments outside of my comfort zone, and I'm thankful for the experiences at Rockbrook that taught me the value of resilience, dedication, and hard work.
After over a decade at camp, I attribute a lot of my self-confidence and positive self-image to the unbelievably encouraging and supportive community at Rockbrook. No day at Rockbrook goes by without celebrating campers who are gaining new and wonderful experiences at camp. Whether it's soaring to new heights on the zip line, the first slide down the waterslide, or trying a different cereal for breakfast, each and every person taking a step out of their comfort zone is met with cheers, applause, and even spontaneous song.
Rockbrook has taught me many wonderful lessons that have remained with me into my adult life, and I'm lucky to have learned the confidence to keep choosing challenges and work to succeed at something new.
Being able to choose your own activity schedule is one of the core experiences for campers at Rockbrook. For some, it is something they really appreciate and love about camp. Instead of being assigned a series of activities, or having your parents be involved in what you end up doing at camp, Rockbrook takes extra efforts to make sure the girls themselves select their activities.
This can be challenging to schedule and has a degree of uncertainty built into it, but we want the girls to have a say in how they spend their time at camp. We want them to make those decisions and feel empowered by that agency and self-direction. Sometimes it can be very interesting for a parent to find out what their child has chosen to do. You might not know a few things about her preferences. Maybe she
tennis, or maybe
an interest in knitting, for example. Plus, part of the fun of camp is being drawn into activities that you wouldn’t otherwise do. A girl might sign up for climbing the Alpine Tower, for example, simply because her camp friend wants to try it. She might ordinarily be a little intimidated by that kind of adventure, but with an encouraging comrade, she might feel extra support and try it. Bingo! New experience, greater self confidence, and sense of accomplishment. Picking activities at home before arriving would undermine that benefit for the girls.
Last year when we were grappling more with COVID and were concerned about a possible infection spreading through our residential community, we created a system of cohorts that assigned activities separate from other cohorts. Each cabin group did activities together, effectively eliminating individual choice. Some camps do this routinely- rotating activities by cabin group. While this made our camp logistics easier, it made the girls miss tailoring their activity schedule to their own interests. They missed switching gears mid week, and they missed being able to do things directly with girls from other cabins. This was yet another reason why we were happy to return to our system of individual choice this summer.
The same is true for our off-camp trips. They are selected individually. A camper signs up for a trip only if she wants to try out a canoeing and camping trip, a backpacking trip, whitewater rafting, kayaking trip, day hike, or ride through the zipline course, for example. Here too, some girls sign up for these adventure trips every chance they get, while others are satisfied with just the zipline or rafting (the 2 most popular options), or neither. Going on trips means having to miss your scheduled activities, so that can sometimes dissuade a camper from signing up. Choosing one thing, necessarily means neglecting all the others. And if you’re excited about riflery, for example, you might be inclined to turn down a trip opportunity if it means you skipping that activity you’ve been looking forward to trying. It’s another decision to make, and another great example of how the girls at camp are allowed to shape their own experience… and grow in the process.
It’s often astounding to see these girls take charge of their days at camp. They’re selecting their own activities, but also deciding how to spend their free time. They’re initiating conversations, creating their own entertainment with others, and navigating the strange environment of camp- all without the guiding hand/opinion of their parents. As a result, they learn they can handle things. They can do things. They can lean into new situations and be OK. Yes, even the tiniest kids can do this. It might be a little messy at times (like when they decide to wear the same shirt too many days in a row…!), but it’s worth it to see them empowered, truly themselves, and absolutely jubilant too. Totally worth it.
It might be everyone’s favorite bell at camp. It’s “
bell,” the bell mounted high in a tree at the dining hall that we ring to announce times at camp. This old bell- It’s from 1895! -is 24 inches in diameter, and has an amazing clear tone that when rung can be heard all over the camp. A sturdy rope is attached to the bell so that when the rope is pulled, the bell rocks back and forth on its stand ringing loudly. I love the idea that every single Rockbrook camper over it’s 100-year history has heard this same bell ring. It’s called girls to meals, and woken them up in the morning for decades!
Of all the times the bell rings at camp, the ringing to announce muffin break has to be the campers’ favorite. Muffin break is simply wonderful. It’s a time between the first and second activity periods when we all gather for a homemade snack. Everyone converges on the dining hall to find out what the day’s surprise muffin flavor is, and then when enjoying the muffin, to meet friends and talk about the day so far for a little while. Friends taking different activities can trade stories about what they’re making (“a new tie-dye!”), what they’re doing (“riding a new horse!”), and what they just accomplished (“getting a bullseye in archery!”).
The muffin flavors are delicious too! The surprise makes it fun. It could be “mint chocolate chip,” or the classic “pumpkin chocolate chip,” or the colorful “funfetti,” or the more traditional “lemon poppyseed.” There’s a huge variety that our bakers have introduced over the years. Today’s flavor was “white chocolate apricot.” Fresh from the oven this morning, it was a huge hit. Yum! It’s easy to understand why that mid-morning bell gets the girls excited.
It was a little rainy this morning at camp. That’s unusual for a morning, but also something that barely slows us down around here. A light rain becomes simply part of the wonderful outdoor experience of our day. We simply grab our raincoat and carry on. So many of the activities can operate indoors (with a few exceptions), we can still find plenty to do. The girls are still climbing (in the gym), riding horses (under the covered arena), and playing tennis (now the tabletop kind in the dining hall). Of course, all the ordinary indoor craft activities still happen- weaving, pottery, woodworking, painting & drawings, tie-dying, needlecraft and folklore.
Even our zip line crews were able to operate in the light rain today. Sure everything gets a little wet, but the equipment and the participants can all be dried! The whole zip line course takes about an hour to complete, and consists of three different zips and 3 different challenge bridges. It weaves its way between the huge boulders and among the large trees of the forest up the hill toward Castle Rock. One zip passes right in front of a waterfall, “Stick Biscuit Falls.” One of the bridges is 40 feel in the air. The final zip is the highlight of the course. It’s a 450-foot screaming ride back into camp that’s both scary, because it’s really fast, and exhilarating, for the same reason. For the smallest Junior and the seasoned Senior camper, the zipline course is a blast. The most common reaction? “That was awesome!”
It might be surprising to see everyone carrying on despite the rain, despite being a little uncomfortable or despite conditions being less the “perfect.” But to me it’s another example of the inherent resilience of the girls at Rockbrook. I’ve said it before;
Rockbrook teaches resilience
. All camps do by virtue of the experience being separate from a child’s usual sources of comfort- most importantly their parents, but also the core familiarities in their lives like food, unencumbered privacy (the ability to “check out” whenever), easy electronic entertainment, and so forth. (By the way, I would say that your child’s smartphone has become one of her major sources of comfort, perhaps without you recognizing it…. Hmmm.) At camp, girls learn to live without those regular sources of support, and to still land on their feet when things don’t go according to their expectations, or they find themselves dealing with something unpleasant. This is an incredibly important life skill, being able to bounce back and reapply yourself, and being able to find comfort internally, in your own abilities. The culture and community of camp helps girls do that because everyone is doing it. It’s just what we do; we keep on moving. It’s ordinary camp life, but truly impressive too.
Our Sunday afternoons at camp always involve a surprise special event for the whole camp, and today was a great one. You might be able to guess the general theme of the event if you remember the list of costumes for this session. One was called “petting zoo.” It clearly has something to do with animals, but in what way?
Well first of all, it’s a great theme for costumes because it can be anything related to animals. The girls could customize and get creative in all sorts of ways. Add ears! Add a tail! They could be a banana or a monkey. One camper dressed like a “pregnant chicken,” and another like a cow. The most popular animal costume was probably a cat, complete with ear headband, and whiskers. One of the funniest was a girl who described herself as a “zombie cow.” There was a shark too, and even a couple of horses.
To add to everyone’s costumes, 6 counselors set up face painting stations on the dining hall porch. Using foam brushes for large patches of color and thin bristle brushes for details, they painted incredibly detailed animals faces for the campers. Pigs, bears, and animals with whiskers soon began appearing. At times, the counselors painted abstract, animal-related, patterns and prints. Even the tiniest design added to the spirit of the event.
All over the camp there were animal related activities to enjoy. There was a wild hobby horse obstacle course relay. There was a cool spray limbo game that challenged everyone to “go low.” There was a silly ring toss game that involved girls tossing rings onto an inflatable flamingo hat. One set of counselors led several country line dances in the gym. There were familiar pop songs too, keeping the whole scene festive.
The different age groups took turns visiting the Lakeview lodge to hear a presentation on snakes. With several amazing examples brought out and displayed, the girls learned where the snakes came from and about their behavior. For example, most snakes run away from predators, but others will “play dead.” The stars of the show were the 4-ft long boa constrictor from Columbia, and the 5-ft long grey banded rat snake. The campers were able to touch these two snakes and get right up close to them to “pet them.” Some of the girls were a little frightened, but others were intrigued to discover the snakes were cool, dry, and not slimy at all.
One final treat was the live bluegrass, old-time acoustic band that played during the event. Featuring our friend Ray Adams (who is also the camp bookkeeper!) and Madeline Dierauf (who is a member of our adventure staff this summer), the band also brought together a local banjo and upright bass player. The band played for 2 solid hours highlighting traditional mountain tunes. All of these musicians have played for large audiences, and they came together just for us this afternoon. It sounded fantastic! The girls probably didn’t realize it, but it was a real treat to have this caliber of music live at Rockbrook.
Live animals and live music. What a fun Sunday afternoon!
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An Animal Afternoon
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We know that it’s very difficult to understand what it feels like to be a camper at Rockbrook, especially if you’re not here to take it all in. There’s just too much happening in too many places. The online photo gallery helps, but there’s always more to see.
Luckily, we have some video as well. We’re thrilled to again have Robbie Francis of
working with us this summer to produce occasional short videos. He came to camp yesterday, and now has this short video ready for you to see.
Take a look! I think you’ll find it fascinating.
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Third Session Highlights Video
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Jumping off the diving board at the Rockbrook lake really appeals to some kids. Some like to simply run off the end and land in the water, and others like to really bend it down and spring high into the air. Either way, there’s enough airtime to do a trick or strike a pose before splashing into the water. During the second free swim period yesterday (before dinner), a set of girls decided they could contort themselves in the air and form letters. And with one of the photographers coincidentally there, they decided to take photos of themselves spelling R-O-C-K-B-R-O-O-K. Here are some sample shots. Can you tell what the letters are? It was just a little silly camp fun before dinner.
It’s an example of the kind of silliness that naturally percolates up when girls find themselves in a safe place where they are comfortable enough to relax and be their true selves. Rockbrook is exactly that sort of place. Our
and emphasis on kindness and community make it a place where girls feel included. It’s a place of belonging for everyone who is here, free from social judgment and competition for rewards. Kids here support each other, cheer for each other, and laugh together. It’s a little surprising compared to the outside world, and can take some time to realize it, but camp is a special kind of environment. Once you find the courage to embrace the community, it can be literally life changing.
The other day I was talking with a Senior camper who has been coming to Rockbrook for several years and she put it like this: “Camp is a place where I can finally be part of something that makes you feel so much gratitude and love and connection to the people, the earth and to yourself. Here I can be my true self, the person I have always wanted to be.”
What a lovely sentiment! And a great testament to the beauty of the camp community and what it means to so many of the girls here. Camp feels uniquely good. Being accepted for who you really are is a relief compared to the worry that often accompanies school environments. Camp feels good because it opens up a welcoming space for girls to let their true selves shine, and because it’s also supportive and encouraging, it provides tremendous opportunities to grow as well. When you’re not worried what someone might say, and you know you don’t have to hide behind something fake, it’s liberating, and the next thing you know, you’re being a little more
and having more fun. It’s magical!
It reminds me of the Japanese word “Ibasho.” Popular in the 1990s, this word describes a “place where one feels at ease, safe and comfortable.” It’s a place of “refuge and empowerment,” as this
puts it. Ibasho is a place where “you feel at home being yourself.” See the connection? Appropriate for most supportive communities, I think ibasho aligns perfectly with the haven we aim to create here at Rockbrook. For the girls here,
Rockbrook is their ibasho
. It too has this special character to encourage authenticity, to be comfortable and empowering.
I think this helps explain the feelings “camp people” have when they say things like: “I would not be who I am if it wasn't for camp,” or “at camp I feel at home.” They’ve discovered their ibasho, a special place where they feel most at home being their true selves. It’s the central power of the camp experience.
There’s more to learn from this concept of ibasho. Questions come to mind about how to create and strengthen an ibasho community, and why ordinarily that is so rarely accomplished. From what I’ve seen at camp, kids thrive in such a community. It seems to me that everyone would benefit from finding their ibasho.
As it’s only my 2nd year, I still don’t really know the complete “ropes” to the camp. I first arrived during my CA year (banquet year!), as COVID-19 delayed my final “regular” senior year of high school. In my opinion, it was a great year to begin my Rockbrook experience.
COVID restrictions changed my first year of camp. Apparently, I didn’t really experience all of camp, but I never would have guessed. Even with missing out on a few in-camp events, there were so many opportunities to go out of camp on adventures. For example, I went rafting, hiking, and whitewater kayaking. Those trips allowed me to gain skills, knowledge and memories that I’ll never forget.
That’s the spirit of Rockbrook, in my opinion. It’s not just about friends, the food, or the lake. It’s not all about the activities (even though they’re all very fun!) or who’s doing what. In my opinion, it’s all about the new skills, new emotions, and new memories that will last a lifetime.
Another thing about camp that I love is the inclusivity of camp. Everyone here is so open and welcoming of everyone else. For example, as a Hi-Up, we can go to any evening program. So I go to the Senior skits dressed in a full banana decor and no one bats an eye.
The camp spirit is unique too. It carries on even when a girl goes home. I’ve seen it from many people, including myself! Girls bring home the embracing nature of camp. They also bring back positivity and happiness along with new skills such as resolving simple conflicts with compromises, how to help reduce their fears, and how to help others with their confidence.
Camp is truly a magical place for me. When I arrived at camp, I jumped out of the car, smiled, and said, “I’m home!” Whether girls have been at Rockbrook for 5 years or 5 days. I can speak for the RBC community when I tell you that Rockbrook is our happy place. One of our favorite places on earth, but most importantly, our home away from home.