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Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch . . .

President: Bush reflects on a year in which much changed. He concludes that his joy at returning home is a constant.

January 01, 2002|JAMES GERSTENZANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CRAWFORD, Texas — His father always grew testy when interviewers tried to delve into his psyche.

"Don't put me on the couch," the first President Bush would say.

And so it was not peculiar that the second President Bush might get his back up the other day when a reporter asked whether the events of his first year in the White House had changed him.

"I don't spend a lot of time looking in the mirror. Except when I comb my hair," the president said. (Indeed, Bush--clad in a comfortably worn jacket--didn't appear to have spent hours primping.)

A note of irritation in his words, he offered this hint: "I liked coming to the ranch before Sept. 11; I like coming to the ranch after Sept. 11."

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Thursday January 3, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 16 words Type of Material: Correction
Bush's dog--The gender of President Bush's dog Spot was misidentified in a Section A story Tuesday. Spot is female.

In other words, no change.

Of the 346 days of his presidency, Bush has spent all or part of 58 days at the ranch, on nine trips. It is where he came to prepare for his first major foreign trip, and where he came for rest afterward. He made a point of bringing Russian President Vladimir V. Putin to the ranch in November.

He toured the 1,600-acre ranch Friday with Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the military architect of the war in Afghanistan and a native of Midland, Texas, a town far to the west where Bush also passed his early years.

And the ranch is where he passed New Year's Eve.

"I'm looking forward to an early evening tonight," he confided to reporters Monday. "I guess at the age of 55, it's OK for a guy to go to bed at about 9 p.m., maybe 10 p.m. So I don't plan anything glamorous for New Year's Eve."

In a caravan of black Chevrolet Suburbans, the president left the ranch Monday for lunch at the Coffee Station, the coffee shop and gas station at the blinking-stoplight intersection that is downtown Crawford. Perhaps 50 people--among them a visitor from Max, N.D., and a young girl on horseback--gathered across the street in front of the grain elevator. They drew a presidential wave, but no handshakes.

Inside, the president said to reporters, "2002 . . . is going to be a great year.

"It's going to be a great year because people are going to be able to find work again. It's going to be a great year because our military is going to do the job the Americans expect."

But mostly, he said, his forecast was sunny because "Americans have taken a look inward, reassessed their values, have realized that some of the basics in life are that which is most important--love of faith, love of family.

"So I'm really looking forward to 2002. I'm also looking forward to my cheeseburger."

Any resolutions for the new year?

"Eat fewer cheeseburgers," the president promised.

When the president arrived in Texas on the day after Christmas, he was accompanied by his wife, Laura; his mother-in-law, Jenna Welch; his springer spaniel, Spot, straining at the leash; his Scottish terrier, Barney, tucked as usual under a presidential arm; and the family cat, India, in a plastic carrying case.

Friends from Lubbock and Austin were expected for the abbreviated New Year's Eve celebration, the president said Monday. Twin daughters Barbara and Jenna had spent Christmas with the family at Camp David, Md., but did not continue on to the isolated ranch, White House aides said.

The days are a melange of rest and work, both physical and official.

"I was up this morning at 5 a.m., spent a little quality time with the first lady. And I just finished my book, 'Theodore Rex' by Edmund Morris, which is a fabulous book on Teddy Roosevelt," Bush said last week.

Monday, he said he spent three hours "in the canyons cleaning underbrush."

The president has planted about 35 trees on Prairie Chapel Ranch, about a 10-minute drive from town. The most recent was a live oak, a Christmas present from White House staff members, which he placed at the side of his house. With a 10-inch diameter, it is more than a sapling.

"Tree plant, very good," he proclaimed.

Then there's the cutting.

"We're making great progress in one of our . . . bottom areas that was heretofore relatively inaccessible," he said. "It's a beautiful place. It's a bodark grove. Bodark tree is a native tree, real hardwood that grows these giant green, kind of apple-looking things," he said.

So he plants and cuts, plants and cuts.

Unlike another ranching president, Ronald Reagan, Bush shows no particular affinity for horses. He drives himself about the property--the only place he gets behind the wheel--in a white extended-cab pickup. On Friday, a convoy of Secret Service vehicles trailed behind.

Turkey vultures circled overhead, and the ever-present Spot bounded out of the truck.

At the Reagan ranch, the wildlife could be troublesome; rattlesnakes slithered nearby while the president rode the hills northwest of Santa Barbara. In Crawford, it was Spot who made White House aides visibly anxious.

He drew up almost directly behind the president, who was speaking on live television about the war in Afghanistan, and relieved himself. Much to the relief of the staffers, the television camera was focused on the president's face.

This much has changed in the pattern here:

At the end of the first year of presidential visits, work is omnipresent.

There were morning videoconferences with the National Security Council; a telephone call from the Russian president to exchange holiday greetings; discussion about the forthcoming State of the Union address; and consideration of circumventing a balky Senate and appointing several controversial nominees to government jobs while the Congress is in recess.

But what about life in Crawford, the crossroads hamlet of 705 the president now calls home?

The barbershop offering $2 shaves is still open--at odd hours. The yellow Formica kitchen table with the chrome legs, an artifact of American design for sale last summer in a secondhand shop, is still for sale. It is still missing a leaf.

And rundown houses still greet the occasional traffic arriving on Farm Road 185, offering a hint of the Dust Bowl, circa 1935.

So it was before Sept. 11. So it is today.

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