(4 of 6)
Chopping cedar is his ultimate escape. When he gets on one of his John Deere "Gators," a hybrid golf cart-tractor, and heads off into the brush, it's not unlike those jaunts his father used to take in the speedboat up at Kennebunkport. "It does just all fall away," says Bush, stepping under a canopy of trees. "I could give a damn about the Supreme Court. Well, of course I do care, but you forget." There's a little defiance and exasperation in his voice. He has stopped the truck this time to show off the "cathedral," a column of limestone steps that were carved by water but look handmade. A nearly perfect arch of branches roofs the long aisle. "I told my daughter, 'This is where the audience will sit,'" says Bush about some imaginary wedding in Jenna's future. "The audience will stand there. You and I will stand here, and the preacher will stand here." A gentle slip of water rolls over the steps and his cowboy boots. "Isn't it spectacular?" he says. "You can imagine when all these trees are budded out in the spring, it's pretty dramatic. The thing about this in here is that it's hard to believe you're in Texas."
Bush doesn't needle his visitors as they follow him through every hollow and over each slippery rock. He would in other settings, where his humor is often less witty than it is withering. But here there are no macho frat-boy tests. He seems eager to help people see what he finds so particular about this place. But in one case, he can't resist having a little fun anyway. "Can you drink this?" asks a guest reaching down to the water. "Sure," says Bush, watching the fellow taking a handful to his mouth. "Except for the cow s___." The spit-take follows in perfect order.
The two-hour tour of the grounds ends at the new house the Bushes have been building. Made of limestone from Lampasas, Texas, less than a two-hour drive from here, it has long rectangular bricks of a dusty putty color with the texture of little mountain ranges. Designed to wind around a series of old live oaks, the compound has an old oak spread out over the front as its focal point. The single-level home's 10,000 sq. ft. are nearly finished, but the high-ceiling rooms take up only a third of that space. The limestone porch takes up the rest, circling the house like a moat.
The builders are all from a religious community in Elm Mott, Texas. The women applying the last touches to the cabinetry are dressed in full-length cotton dresses with simple patterns. "They have the most lovely countenances," says Bush, stepping from the driver's seat. As he tours past the well-turned joints and solid doors they have carved and walks into a room, the dozen or so workers there break out in smiles. A carpenter he calls by name is so excited he does a little hop.