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Just Who Are They Waving at?

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EVERY summer I seem to experience an odd moment. My wife and I are teachers, and we usually try to spend the long vacations that our jobs offer us in a rented house in the country. This past summer we went, with our baby daughter, to Montana. Shortly after we arrived, the odd moment occurred. It came about in the usual way. I'm driving down one of the back roads, minding my own business, when gradually I realize that people are waving at me.

They wave from their pickups and cars, barely lifting their hands off the steering wheel but waving all the same, or they nod at me from the side of the road as I whiz by. Sometimes there's not a soul who doesn't wave, and I wonder if they're trying to tell me my lights are on or maybe a tire is flat. I turn onto the state highway, heading into town, and though the gesture is not as frequent here, when it occurs it's unsettling enough to make me look in the rear-view mirror - out the back window and then

with some consternation at myself. Is this a case of mistaken identity? Most of these people I've never seen before. So who do they think they're waving at?

Then I remember. I'm not in the city any more. And if there's anything that distinguishes city folk from country folk, it's the fact that in rural areas people make a habit of waving at utter strangers. It's a truth that is too easy to forget when you have been in the city awhile.

In town, I pull into the gas station to have a tire changed. The owner is an elderly fellow who is efficient and thorough, and he goes about his work (extracting the tire from the rim, putting the new one on, filling it with air) with a quiet respectfulness. It turns out that he is a hunter - a bowhunter. There are archery magazines scattered all around the office. He must have seen me flipping through them as I sat there, because as I pay the bill he asks if I hunt.

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