ACA Blog

Pam Ebert
Aug 07, 2012

What do rabbits, canoes and marshmallows have to do with counseling?

My soul has been fed! I feel at ease, happy and in tune with my culture and my family. Why, you ask? How did I accomplish such a thing, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. First, the Columbiana County Fair was last week. Second, the family and I went on a wonderful mini-getaway to Clewell’s Landing, which is at Guilford Lake State Park. This is a long story to prove a short point, so bear with me, readers. There is a moral at the end of this self-indulgent tale!

Let me start with the Fair. For those of you from urban or suburban areas, I will say that in most rural places, the annual County Fair is a huge deal. The summer is winding down, the crops will soon be harvested, the kids have worked all summer preparing their 4-H animals for showing at the fair and people are ready to socialize and see friends that they haven’t seen for months or even a year. Yummy (but super-unhealthy) foods, carnival rides, live music, visiting with friends and neighbors. That about sums it up for most.

For me, though, going to the county fair is all about connecting with my family, friends and my culture. It’s all there! My kids got to ride the rides with their friends, my husband and I got to hear some great live music from Zach Paxon and Savannah Jack, and my daughter discovered the bunnies and rabbits at the Rabbit and Poultry barn.
Watching my daughter fall in love with an animal was, for me, a great parental moment. This is something that many parents and kids experience, but in our rural, Appalachian community there is special significance. The experience of having and caring for animals helps to tie us to the land and to our families and our community. We also learn to love the land, the animals, the family ties and the culture this way as the connection extends to another generation.

Long story short, I caved in and soon we will be the caretakers of a Holland Lop bunny (or two). Jenna plans to join 4-H this year and next year she could be showing her bunny at the fair just like rural kids all over. Membership in 4-H is something that I was able to experience as a kid and I am so glad that my daughter wants to try it. Through 4-H kids learn self-discipline, perseverance, responsibility, hands-on learning in the areas of science, citizenship and healthy living. 4-H kids also get the opportunity to go to 4-H camp, learn leadership skills and participate in culturally sensitive community development projects.

I still remember the 4-H pledge that I took as a nine-year old:

The 4-H Pledge

I pledge my head to clearer thinking,
My heart to greater loyalty,
My hands to larger service,
and my health to better living,
for my club, my community, my country, and my world.

Come to think of it, all these things should (in my opinion) be included in a pledge for counselors. But I digress.

While at the fair I also got to see the best of what my culture has to offer. Livestock, food, displays of local arts and crafts, music, friends and family and my favorite, getting to watch all these and other phenomena unfold before my eyes. My secret vice; rural and Appalachian people watching. So fun!

The other great thing that took place this week was our last mini-vacation of the summer to Guilford Lake State Park and two days of staying in an awesome cottage at Clewell’s Landing. As hot as it was, coupled with the fact that our otherwise-awesome cottage had no air conditioning, we pretty much swam all weekend to stay cool. Each of the kids got to take a friend or two with us and that, plus water, lots of snacks and a canoe ensured a memorable trip.

My son and his friend, ages ten and eleven, discovered how much fun it can be to paddle a canoe and prove their competence through physical activity. The looks of pride and accomplishment on those boys’ faces after taking their (highly supervised by nervous parents) first lap around the small inlet in front of our cottage was something I will not soon forget. I am so grateful that they had the chance to try something that was so meaningful, self esteem building and culturally in-tune! The looks on those boys’ faces is something I will not soon forget.

After that, the kids all got to build their own campfires (highly supervised, of course), roast marshmallows and make s’mores. What a wonderful week!

What does all this have to do with counseling? Well, this counselor does a much better job when she is relaxed, happy and content. Most counselors are the same, I think.
Remember all that stuff we hear about self-care? For this Appalachian counselor, self-care is not taking a bubble bath or shopping with friends at the mall. For me and many other counselors who are from or work in rural areas, self care is about connection and remembering why we choose to live here in the sticks. We live and work here not for the glamorous settings, the rich neighbors or the easy-access to many high paying jobs, but for that sense of connectedness with our community, our families and our land.
In this collectivistic Appalachian area, who we are is not nearly important as what we are a part of. And this week, I am a part of my culture and my community.

Of course, that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.

I hope everyone has a great, contented week!

Pam Ebert is a counselor in private practice while completing her doctoral work. She has a special interest in both rural and Appalachian cultures and how they pertain to the world of counseling.

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