- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 26, 2001

CRAWFORD, Texas President Bush yesterday said he prefers this small town to Washington, D.C., because he can relax with friends without having to defend his policies, or clear his mind as he clears brush from the canyons of his 1,600-acre ranch.
Taking reporters on an 80-minute tour of his central Texas property, Mr. Bush enthused at length about the plants and animals that share his home. He also shed some light on why he likes to spend so much time here.
"It is one of the few places where I can actually walk outside my front door and say, 'I think I'm going to go walk two hours,'" the president said. "I can walk wherever I want to walk. And I can't do that in Washington."
Wearing sunglasses, a dirty cowboy hat and sweat-soaked T-shirt, Mr. Bush used a chainsaw to cut a tree in half before leading journalists on an unusually thorough tour of his land. The president clambered over logs, hiked up steep inclines and seemed to relish his role as Naturalist-in-Chief.
"I've seen fox in here; I've seen all kinds of bird," he said as he stood in a favorite canyon. He added sardonically, "It's a wonderful spot to come up in here and just kind of think about the budget."
But reporters were warned in advance by a White House official that the president wanted to talk about his property, not his policies.
"Sometimes it's important to just get away," Mr. Bush said. "Plus, you know, one of the things we miss in Washington is our friends. And they're here.
"And we find it really relaxing to sit down on the porch with our buddies and just shoot the breeze. And you know, it's amazing you don't have to defend any policy you make."
Mr. Bush, who has been criticized by Democrats and the press for taking a monthlong working vacation in Crawford, said Americans "are beginning to realize that this is our home." He added: "I'm a homebody. I like my home. I like my own bedroom. I like hanging out with my family and friends here."
Although he was careful to say nice things about Washington and the White House, Mr. Bush made clear he prefers Crawford.
"You know, coming out here makes you realize that Washington is a wonderful place, but it's certainly not the center of all wisdom and knowledge," he said. "There is a lot of wisdom and knowledge in the minds and souls of the folks of Crawford, Texas, just like there are amongst some of the elite in Washington."
His vacation has not been all rest. He spent hours Friday talking with military advisers in a marathon meeting at the ranch that would have been truncated by the crush of other business if it had been held in the White House. He also has been able to spend more time with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
"As a matter of fact, in some ways this place is better for work," Mr. Bush said. "This place allows for more in-depth discussions. Condi and I spend a lot of time just sitting around visiting about our foreign policy matters."
He added, "The CIA briefings I have on our porch the end of our porch looking out over the lake."
The president has managed to spend a few hours each day building nature trails in his canyons, including one he calls his cathedral. He said Tonkawa Indians once brought horses here for water and shelter.
Yesterday, he dubbed himself the "tree man" because he kept rattling off the names of hardwoods and other plants that recently were identified by experts from Texas A&M; University. He pointed out oak, ash, elm, willow, pecan, sycamore, hackberry and cedars that make the place "kind of jungly." He also talked about poison ivy, wildflowers, buffalo grass and Johnson grass.
Mr. Bush demonstrated a thorough knowledge of Texas wildlife, including doves, golden cheek warblers, rattlesnakes and cottonmouth snakes. He said his dogs, Spot and Barney, love to chase armadillos, wild turkeys and grasshoppers.
Finally, the president spoke at length about the region's soil, rock formations, aquifers, rainfall and weather. He waxed about topographies ranging from hay country to hill country, from "black land prairie" to "transition zones."
He even explained the heating and cooling system of the water supply to the ranch house.
"It's the same type of system that Vice President Gore put in the vice presidential house, which I didn't realize," Mr. Bush remarked. "But he did."

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