With President Bush currently preoccupied with Iraq, the housing crisis, a recessionary economy, food shortages, record high crude oil prices, the falling value of the dollar against foreign currencies, and an ever-expanding federal budget deficit, another looming crisis has gone quietly unnoticed: the buildup of brush and undergrowth at the president’s private ranch in Crawford, Texas has reached critical levels.
The president bought the 1,583 acre estate, Prairie Chapel Ranch, in 1999, shortly before he announced his run for the presidency. After the purchase, Bush removed five hog barns from the property and added an 11 acre man-made pond stocked with large-mouth bass, bluegill, and red ear sunfish.
Since then, the president — no matter how pressing or urgent the numerous challenges facing his administration — has dedicated hour upon hour and day upon day to clearing brush in Crawford, often accompanied only by his chief of staff, various aides, his Secret Service detail, and a gaggle of journalists and photographers. Over the years, many interlopers have fallen to his match or his chainsaw: cedar and mesquite trees, cocklebur weeds, underbrush, thistles, anything that dared to encroach upon (or had the temerity to previously exist upon) this non-working vanity ranch. But with 1,600 acres to cover, deciding what to clear is often more art than science. According to a December 2005 story in the Washington Post,
there will be times when the president drives around his property and “will see a stand of cedar trees and say ‘Let’s clear those,’ ” said Joseph Hagin, Bush’s deputy chief of staff, who has been cutting brush with his boss all week.
Important work indeed.
But now it finally seems as though the plethora of crises facing this administration has forced this hands-on president to reluctantly scratch ‘brush clearing’ from his executive to-do list. A necessary decision, perhaps, but a recent visit to Crawford indicates that it is not without serious consequences. Groves of cedar trees, almost cheeky in their posture, grow unchecked across the vast unused acreage of Prairie Chapel Ranch. Thick, insolent stands of mesquite trees — long thought to be the sneakiest of all the leguminous shrubs — have sprouted up as well, along with underbrush and weeds and hanging limbs, all of them opportunistic intruders who, almost by their very existence, seem to mock the president’s once-mighty chainsaw. Will the president find time over the summer to squeeze in a fortnight at the ranch, and, if so, will there be time enough in his schedule to take out a grove or two of these leafy ne’er-do-wells? Only time will tell.