Lucy on how to be a cowboyI think I’m honest about the fact that I am not a cowgirl yet. Besides the alarming lack of cows at Two Terrier Ranch, there aren’t actually any critters here that you would call “ranched”. We have authentic coyotes, one or maybe two Mountain Lions and loads of foxes. But instead of dogies, we’ve just got doggies. That puts us squarely in the category of George W. Bush ranching — which is defined as having no livestock but terriers. That doesn’t mean I’m not undertaking a serious course of study for the day — hopefully soon — when we’ll be stocked with horses, burros and free-range chickens. It’s a steep learning curve, but I’m willing to make the sacrifice to live the dream.

Then every now and then I get a giant boost toward the Cowboy Way. Last week, it was stumbling over the book my lovely assistant, Lucy, is displaying at the top of this post. How to Be a Cowboy by Jim Arndt is billed as:

A compendium of knowledge and insight, wit and wisdom, and all-around resource for every aspect of cowboy life. Such as: Ranching, Rodeo, Cooking, Music, Dancing, Yodeling, Boots, Shirts, Horses, Hats, Buckles, Denim, Lingo, Cowboy Poetry, and How to Walk Like a Cowboy.

So much to learn, so little time! Which leads me to my current approach of tackling these important bits of knowledge in bite-sized chunks.

This week I’ve been practicing The Cowboy Wave. (Fellow students, turn to page 108 in your textbooks.) Little did I know how important The Cowboy Wave could be. You might even call it one of the foundations of the Cowboy Lifestyle. Excerpting from Lawson Drinkard’s Riding on a Range, Arndt breaks it into three important steps:

Step One: Get a Truck!

Check! Here’s the old Ford we call Tweety Bird by moonlight.

And by day filled with terriers.

Here’s an even older Ford set for a victory lap around Sonoma Plaza.

However it should be noted that neither the teenager nor the terriers are actually doing The Cowboy Wave.

Which brings me to Step Two: Create a Style. Apparently, The Cowboy Wave can’t be a big showy hand-flapping. It can’t be a tightly controlled little flick of the wrist as the Queen of England has perfected. No, properly executed, The Cowboy Wave must be as laconic as Gary Cooper, as understated as Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name, and as thoroughly Western as John Wayne. Drinkard notes helpfully that the wave is best done without taking the hand off the steering wheel. That’s where you develop your style. Some cowboys just lift an index finger. The more dexterous raise only the second and third fingers while keeping the pinky and thumb on the wheel. (This is an advanced move for seasoned cowboys.) The important thing is to find your style and stick with it.

Step Three, of course, is: Get ‘Er Done. In other words, every proper cowboy gives this special Western howdee to everyone he passes. (Provided, I’m assuming, that they are not “no count, side-windin’ varmints.”) The purpose of the Cowboy Wave, my book tells me, is to say to another person: “Hello, noticed you today.” After all, out on the range, who knows when you’ll need that person’s help with cattle rustlers, horse thieves and the aforementioned “no count, side-windin’ varmints”?

In the meantime, I’m still working to find my special Cowboy Wave style. So if I pass you around Sonoma, well, “Howdee, Pardner!”

NOTE: Here are the Amazon links to How to Be a Cowboy and Riding on a Range. But the Cowboy Way would be to find it at your nearest independent bookseller. I found mine at the most excellent Readers Books just off the Sonoma Plaza.