I’m lamenting the loss of a chicken sanctuary. I had just started to take my one-year-old Husky for rides through downtown Bastrop every day. The chicken sanctuary was his favorite part of the ride, at least it seemed to be to me. Maybe it was just me projecting my own likes onto my poor dog. I’d lower the windows for him, and let him watch and hear the roosters as we drove through the portion of downtown Bastrop that had feral chickens, mostly roosters, gathered here and there.
The city council voted to remove the chickens and end the 10-year-old sanctuary recently. in 2009, the same council (not the same people) had voted to formalize the area of downtown that had feral chickens, some lineage reportedly having been around since the 1800s. That may be an urban myth, but the fact remained that feral chickens had been part of downtown Bastrop since I moved here in 2000. The chicken sanctuary was a uniquely Bastrop item. No neighboring towns have anything like it, maybe that’s what the city council was trying to avoid, standing out. I know I’ve had my bouts with trying to fit in throughout the years, too.
Most likely, though, it was more of the non-Texas influence that’s moved into town the past 20 years and taken over. Gone is the small-town Texas lifestyle that brought me to the area. With each new chain store, our little town steps forward into the 21st century and farther from it’s rural Texas roots. Supposedly Bastrop is one of the oldest towns in Texas. Like all little towns from the early 1800s, there are wonderful old homes lining the main streets of downtown. The quaintness ends there, unfortunately. Zoning laws have changed over the years causing a hodgepodge of styles. The city hall is a boring utilitarian building across from a newer art center that was built by a private party on top of an old railroad yard. Neither looks that unique or interesting. The old courthouse still stands, but there’s a new annex where most of the business is done, outside of real courthouse stuff.
Fortunately, there are no statues being taken down, although some local tried to jump on that bandwagon a few years back and get a courthouse lawn statue removed. Maybe they focused on the chickens instead? I don’t have hope for a statue these days. No one respects anything that has to do with history or tradition. They want to see these things as reminders of the past in a negative light and remove them from existence, forgetting that we keep reminders around to help us never forget the good or the bad. We want to learn from our mistakes.
Clearly having a chicken sanctuary was a mistake to be rectified by this version of the city council. As Bastrop does, they just kept putting it on the docket until the people tire of it, get apathy and recede. That’s when a vote takes place. We stopped a $110 million high school bond for years until they had reworded the thing so many times you didn’t know whether to vote yes or no to stop it. They built a performing arts center right next to the chicken sanctuary with that money and a high school far, far out of town that still doesn’t look to be at capacity. I’ll be paying for that for 30 years, even though I’ve never had a kid in this system, nor ever will. The old high school, the one they claimed was obsolete and overcrowded, still is.
I’ve built up a hate of all government, but especially the smaller ones. They have the chance, the ability to actually get government right. They can affect local change and influence, but they choose to join the national narrative far too often. We’ve had a lot of tragedy in this area with fires and resulting flooding, and compared to that, the chicken sanctuary is a silly thing. But it’s also because of those tragedies that we should have held on to the simple things that make us unique. The more I investigate this issue, the more I see the truth about local politics. This was one man’s war against what he didn’t want. He’s very involved in local politics. No one has ever voted for him.
Over the past 18 years since I’ve been here, I’ve watched our uniqueness dwindle. Each new bank and each new Mexican restaurant watered down the punch, so to speak, and made this area a little less interesting. Each chain store, while making it a hell of a lot more convenient to live here, made things just a little worse because we didn’t have to rely on other towns as much as we had in the past. Each freeway overpass was completed with efficiency and each stoplight removed any better flow we might have gained. The quaint stores have moved out of downtown for various reasons, and as much as they try to get you to shop downtown, they are closed on Sundays. The library has more cake pans and movies than books, but I suppose that’s the way of things now. We want to be entertained, not educated. Most library patrons are there for the free Internet, anyway.
I took my dog downtown this weekend. He still enjoyed the ride, and I doubt he noticed the lack of chickens, although I sure did. We took him to Smithville the next day to see how he liked it. He seemed to feel the same way about Smithville as he does about Bastrop. I think that’s what the city council wants for us. They just want us to be like every other town around. They want to remove anything that would help us stand out as a small Texas town, and since they make the rules, we get to abide by their orders. I don’t even live in the city proper, so I don’t even get a vote in these things. I just get to watch on the sidelines as the games are played. That’s alright by me. I’ll find something else I enjoy doing until they designate it needs to go away, too.
Victor Hugo said, “Nothing oppresses the heart like symmetry,” and I happen to agree with him. It’s the uniqueness that’s memorable, not the sameness. No one will remember a town that’s exactly like another town, that’s exactly like all the others. But they would have remembered a town with a quaint chicken sanctuary. Maybe that’s the true function of government, to make everything the same. It’s all about control, isn’t it? How does one control? By removing the extremes. Getting rid of the fringes, the troublemakers, the attention-seekers. In that case, the city council did us a huge favor. No one will mistake us for a unique rural small Texas town for much longer.