In the summer of 1980 when I turned 17, I spent some time in Arizona with my uncle Richard. At that time he lived in Christopher Creek in a smallish ranch-style home that you reached at the end of a seven mile long driveway. Yes, you did indeed read that correctly. And it was more than 25 miles to the nearest town, so heaven help you if you forgot something on a grocery shopping trip. Remember the TV show Grizzly Adams and its subsequent TV movies starring Dan Haggerty? Well, they were filmed on my uncle's land up there in the mountains and occasionally the bear who also starred on the show would get loose and be found a bit closer to the house than was comfortable, but that didn't happen while I was there (though it might have made for a bit more fast-paced fun than was normal for a mountain home in the middle of nowhere). No, my uncle's animals were more than capable of endlessly entertaining a bored houseguest all on their own.
There was a small pack of dogs, hounds mostly, though my uncle now swears he never had hounds. This is odd because he had a Borzoi (also known as the Russian Wolfhound) and a beagle or two (also hounds) and a hodge podge group of mixed hound breeds as well, most of them rescues from a local shelter, but hounds nonetheless. The Borzoi was named Crystal and she would smile on request. If you said, "Give us a smile, Crystal" she would slowly curl her long lips back from her endless teeth and grin maniacally at you until you told her she was a good girl. She'd do it all day long if that's what you wanted to see. It was amusing at first, but even as slow and uneventful as an Arizona summer's afternoon in the wilderness can be, and as desperate as an East Coast teenage girl could get for anything to see or do to pass the monotonous time, even Crystal smiling at me lost its cute factor pretty quickly.
My uncle also had a horse named Buck. He'll swear to you that Buck was a normal horse, who behaved like a horse normally would, but that just isn't true. I'm not sure if my uncle's memory is failing as he ages (see above regarding his dogs) or perhaps he's now embarrassed by his past odd animals as my uncle fears anything perceived to be unusual, but Buck was a horse who was anything but normal. He preferred to be indoors with the family.
As I had arrived late in the evening on my first day there, I didn't actually meet Buck until the next morning when I awoke to hot breath and a soft whinnying sound just inches from my face. Ever wake up with a horse bent down low over you watching you while you've slept? It isn't so much the being watched while sleeping that is unnerving; it's the waking up to a large horse head poking you in the nose that'll get your heart to hammering. It's equally startling for quite a few mornings and then just as suddenly you find yourself entirely used to it and wake with a gentle pat offered to that warm nose and a "Good morning, Buck" on your tongue as if you've been waking up with a horse standing over your bed every morning of your life and this is perfectly sane.
I would then get up and shower and head to the kitchen for breakfast only to find Buck, who was a very large horse even when not indoors, in the middle of what was a fairly small room, standing calmly between the table and the only countertop. To get from the refrigerator, stove and counter to the table required ducking down low, breakfast and coffee in hand, and climbing under the horse on one side and out on the other to sit and eat. And then when I was through eating, climbing back under the horse to return my dishes to the sink, with Buck all the while blissfully unaware of just how much space he was taking up in the middle of that little kitchen. And when breakfast was over and I would go outdoors to enjoy nature at possibly its most beautiful and most primitive, I would be followed by the pack of dogs and Buck, who saw absolutely no reason why he shouldn't join the pack as I ambled about the land.
More meals meant more Buck in the kitchen and then come evening, when we'd all go and sit in the living room and watch some TV to unwind, and there would be Buck, standing next to my chair or my uncle's "watching" TV too until we turned out the lights and retired for the night. Come morning it would start all over again with Buck poking me in the face to wake me up.
Buck was a charming horse with a personality that I have never again met in another horse since. He was a rare and gentle spirit who loved his people and wanted to be with them all the time, just as the dogs were allowed. No one ever refused him entry into the house, though there were times when Buck was asked to step outside for a bit, and he'd obediently go, only to return a short while later. Yes, the house had a perpetually barn-like odor to it and no, Buck didn't ever poop in the house. And I know I'm remembering all this correctly, not only because thus far my brain is still functioning fairly normally (knock wood), but also because other family members have corroborated my stories about Buck. So I'm sorry Uncle Richard, I hate to break it to you but this is all true. Every word.