There's a strong north wind blowing out of a cloudless sky down Crawford's main street, pulling at the Texan and American flags in front of the Red Bull souvenir shop. The only sound on this placid afternoon is the tinkling of wind chimes. It wasn't always so quiet in this tiny rural community of 730 in central Texas where former President George W. Bush has maintained a ranch since 1999. Four years ago, there were some who wondered if the noise would ever stop. The President's five-week summer vacation at his ranch brought the turmoil over the Iraq war into every corner of Crawford. Led by Cindy Sheehan, a California mother who had lost her son in Iraq and swore she wouldn't leave Crawford until she met with the President, hundreds of activists flocked to the town. International camera crews and celebrities soon followed. As the antiwar crowds grew, pro-Bush protesters gathered in equal numbers; by the end of the summer, tiny Crawford was overflowing with several thousand visitors. (See pictures of Crawford.)
But ever since the spotlight shifted to Bush's successor and the war in Iraq left the front pages, things have been quieter. Along Prairie Chapel Road, the country lane leading to the Bush ranch, the crosses symbolizing the war dead, the makeshift tents, the signs, the satellite trucks, the flag-draped Harley-Davidsons, the Joan Baezes and the right-wing talk-radio hosts are all gone. Sheehan quit her protest, disillusioned with both Republican and Democratic leaders, in 2007. The once flattened roadside grass, parched yellow by drought, now stands straight. The only movement is a hawk landing on a fence post, a horse pawing at the dust and a trio of baby goats playing in a dry creek bed.
At Peace House, a small wooden home turned into an antiwar HQ by a group of Dallas activists during Bush's first term, a MISSION ACCOMPLISHED sign hangs on the toolshed. Dozens of shoes adorn the picket fence, their soles pointing streetward in solidarity with the Iraqi journalist who threw his footwear at Bush. Late in the afternoon, a long black limousine slides across the nearby railroad tracks, but it is only a group of Crawford High seniors off to celebrate prom night in nearby Waco. North of town, the pasture dubbed Camp Casey in honor of Sheehan's fallen son is deserted; Christmas wreaths shaped like peace signs still hang on the gate. An 18-ft. (5 m) steel sculpture, Freedom's Angel of Steadfast Love--a gift to the town from a Pennsylvania artist to commemorate 9/11--stands in an empty lot where pro-Bush supporters gathered. The locals have taken to decorating it for certain holidays and other occasions: red, white and blue banners on the Fourth of July, a veil and bouquet of flowers for Jenna Bush's wedding last May. (See pictures of George W. Bush.)
The Bushes themselves are keeping a low profile, splitting their time between the ranch and their new home in Dallas. The former First Couple did drop in at the Coffee Station, the local café, during a recent Lions Club breakfast meeting. Bush answered a few questions and shook some hands while Laura sipped coffee. Today, Ronnie (Perch) Smith, a road builder and horsebreaker, is finishing a plate of the Coffee Station's signature Bush Wings--chicken breasts stuffed with cheese and jalapeños, wrapped in bacon and fried--which enjoy broad bipartisan support. Smith doesn't talk politics much, although in the summer of 2005, he says, he painted SHEEHAN on the rump of his horse and rode it past Peace House.
Down the street at the Red Bull, manager Jamie Burgess prepares to close up shop after a slow day. In the past year, three Crawford souvenir shops shut down for good. "We were the first ones to open and the last ones standing," she says with a laugh. For her, the Bush years were a worthwhile experience. "Before, when people came to Crawford, it was for [high school] athletic events, they were kin to someone or were just lost," she says. "Now I have met people from all over the world." And while some came in anger, she says, "It takes two wings for an eagle to fly."