Mississippi River south of Brainerd, MN – September 18, 2012
I grew up on an old dirt road where you waved at anyone passing by. It didn’t have to be much, you wouldn’t roll down your window and shoot your arm into the air, just a hand rising off the wheel was plenty. Maybe add in a bit of a nod or a slight back-and-forth, just something to make sure they see you, but everyone’s got their own style.
Some of the old-timers on my road had it whittled down to the core. Efficient and practiced, their fingers moved off the wheel just enough to catch your eye and no more, but you’d see it every time. They always moved without exception.
A construction crew paved the road a few years back. Cars travel faster now and their’s less dust, but people still wave, at least until you get to the highway.
You develop a sense for it, a feel for roads that are waiving roads. Dirt, clay, asphalt, it doesn’t matter as long as it’s the kind of place where it’s odd not to raise your hand off the wheel just a bit. Along those avenues of transportation, failing to flash your palm will mark you as a stranger faster than an out-of-state license and a foreign accent.
It’s a way of saying hello to a fellow human being. A way of letting them know you see them, that they’re part of your world and you’re part of theirs, even if it is just a hint of movement in an old-timer’s fingers.
But maybe that’s why those waves mean so much. They’re almost no effort at all, just a flick of the wrist to recognize another person. If you can’t do that for your fellow human being, what chance do we have?
“How do you know so many people here?” more than one city-born friend has asked me as we drove along a country road.
“I don’t,” I say. “I’m just waivin’.”
The Mississippi is a waiving road. It may be one of the oldest ones on the continent. People have waived on it for centuries and still do. The boat’s have changed, the banks have developed, but the wave has remained constant. I knew it as soon as my paddle touched the water.
Fishermen chugging around in little motor boats, folks sitting on their docks, people casting lines in below the Brainerd dam, they all raise a quick hand and nod their head. It feels right. Feels a bit like home.
Still, every once in a while someone does pass without waiving, but we all shake our heads and know they aren’t from around here.