In January I began a new preaching opportunity in South Dakota ranch country. I recall my first introduction to rural farming areas--I found joy in watching corn and soybeans grow traveling to the congregation several days each week. The residents of these small South Dakota towns and I exchanged perspectives. I gained a new perspective on human relationships with the land, and the people refreshed their perspectives with my ebullience about...growing corn!
This is my first time preaching to a crowd of men where the majority wear cowboy boots and flannel shirts. What I see in the attire and their attitude toward me is that what you see is what you get. I see an integrity about their presence. Not that they wouldn't act differently in a bar or at a party than they would at church, but the tone of conversation and their presence in the life of the church is that the church is a part of who they are, rather than merely a place that they go. Five weeks may not be enough time for me to observe time out on the ranch, but that is what I see to this point.
One unmistakable part of ranch culture, or at least the more sparsely populated areas of the Northern Great Plains is "The Wave." I speak not of the stadium or ocean variety, but the greeting. One need not know a resident of these areas, all you need to do is pass by one of these rural residents in your vehicle, and you will be greeted by a wave. Most of the waving seems to be done by males, though I'm not sure if only same-sex waving is socially acceptable. I cannot recall ever seeing a female wave from their vehicle. I also notice that each male resident develops a signature wave. I cannot verify the unique wave--whether each male is designated a style of wave when they receive their driver's license, or waving is a motion that develops over the years, or the wave is assigned at birth, only to be taught by the male mentor.
What types of waves can be seen in the Northern Great Plains? After almost 18 years of exploring the Northern Great Plains, here are some components I have seen in wave style:
1. Finger Raises: Raise one, two, three or four fingers. This is the minimalist approach greeting, but remains a sign of respect, unless, of course, that one finger greeting is the middle one.
2. Sweep: Can also be done with 1-4 fingers or an entire hand--a single sweeping motion.
3. A gripped or non-gripped position on the steering wheel.
4. The Halt Wave: Hold up your hand as if you want the oncoming driver to stop (you don't have to stop if you receive this greeting)
5. Nod: Can replace a wave, but can also be done in combo move.
6. Combo move: put together several of the aforementioned moves. One classic combo example: Single finger raise sweep, connected to the wheel with a nod combo. My wave is a halt-sweep combo with an occasional nod.
7. The Miss America: Just kidding. This wave does not exist except for maybe homecoming queens or queen of the local festival. Even then I have yet to see this wave.
This wave exchange diminishes the closer one gets into higher population towns. I'm not sure what the population cutoff is, but my best guess would be about 2,000 people. Another variable might be degree of town isolation. I think if a town doesn't have another significant population center within 50 or so miles, then the wave percentage might go up. An isolated town of 3,500 might have a high percentage of vehicular wavers, where as an exurb of 800 may have a low percentage of wavers.
Until I become accustomed to spending time on rural highways, I find myself waving like a high school kid trying to catch up to a 90 mph fast ball: I'm a bit too late. After 5 weeks in ranch country, my wave percentage has gone up from about .333 to about .750. I'm not sure what the Guy Hall of Fame credentials in waving might be, but I have accumulated enough experience that my time in the Northern Great Plains has been more than a cup of coffee.