Editor's Note: This story by former Bee columnist Glenn Scott was first publish on Jan. 8, 1993.
Cricket isn't waiting for us anymore.
The old buckskin mare that stood alone on a knoll along Highway 108 finally died this week. With her disappears a poignant symbol of rural life, a gift of friendship to the many travelers hurrying through the dry grazing lands.
For the past six years, during good weather, the horse posted herself along the fence line in a field east of Lover's Leap. She waited, unmoving, day after day, as if she knew we'd all be returning.
Most folks knew her saggy profile.
She was like a roadside greeter, a living landmark. She was so well recognized — or was it anticipated? — that her quiet corner of grazing land was punctuated at all daylight hours with the greeting call of passing humans. People honked constantly.
And Cricket calmly stared.
The horse was the best-known creature from Manteca to Sonora, probably farther. Weekend campers, daily commuters, busloads of bingo players -- they all marked their passage with a glimpse of the stationary horse.
For many, especially for the busy folks zooming by, she was a palpable and relaxed symbol of the countryside. She was steady. She was always there.
A horse is a horse, of course. But who among us didn't wonder just once if Cricket recognized us?
Who didn't hope?
Walt Taylor knew his horse was fading. Cricket fell last year and couldn't arrange her stiff old legs to push herself up. Rescuers found her down in her field. They hitched a rope around her and gently hoisted her to her feet.
Her death was not unexpected. She was 36. That's a long life for a horse.
Earlier this week, Taylor found Cricket down again, this time for good. He found her on the upper plateau of the field halfway between the fence line at the highway and the Stanislaus River.
He thinks she died Friday.
"She just laid down and passed away."
Taylor didn't make it a big deal.
A Waterford cattleman, Taylor bought Cricket at an auction in Newman when she was 2.
"She raised my kids, my grandkids and everybody else's kids," he said.
He first retired her to clover, but the feed was too rich.
Then he moved her to the grazing land that he leases from the Willms family.
Once she became a fixture there, he decided to bury her eventually in the field. This week, he did.
He also wanted to stick a small wooden cross in the field.
"We were just talking about that right now," Taylor said from his home Thursday. "My son's got a router, and we're gonna put her name on it."
They intend to place the cross at the fence line. That way highway travelers will see it, as they once saw Cricket.
For all the public interest in Cricket, she was surprisingly wary of attention. The fence posts were often adorned with apples and other edible gifts.
At Christmas, you could count on a wreath or two. Bales of hay even appeared as anonymous gestures.
Yet Cricket kept her distance.
"I always wondered why so many people liked that horse," said Taylor. "I guess it's just because she stood there."
She became a popular subject of poems and western songs mailed to local newspapers and posted on feed store walls.
It was just Tuesday that Rita Leitner, an Oakdale writer, called Taylor. She hoped to write an essay about the mare.
Like so many others, Leitner regularly passed the horse on trips into the foothills. She felt a kinship. Taylor gave her the news.
Leitner wrote a poem. A few lines:
Children would wave,
Car horns would toot,
A carrot, too, was shared.
She'd swish her tail
A special way
To show us that she cared.
Leitner said the horse was simply a friend on the road, a welcome sight.
"We just really looked forward to seeing her every time we pulled around that corner."
Taylor hired a backhoe operator from Knights Ferry to bury the horse.
"When he pulled in, he said, "Oh no. We're not gonna bury Cricket,'" said Taylor. "It was kind of ironic and kind of nice, too, that she was buried by someone who knew her."
But really, a greater irony would have been finding someone from those parts who didn't know Cricket.