This is the longest I’ve been away from Tennessee in my entire life. Kind of weird.
Julie, Jesse, and I have been out West for about a month. Already we’ve seen the morning sun glow on red rocks that jut from the ground. Two nights ago snow started falling, so walking to work since then I’ve crunched my way up the hill to my office. And this is the second snowfall we’ve had; it’s not even Halloween yet.
On our trip out here we stayed the first night in St. Louis — deemed the gateway to the West ever since Meriwether Lewis and William Clark embarked from there on their own journey more than 200 years ago. Once our young country finished with inventing itself in the East, Lewis and Clark’s expedition marked its next adventure: growing into the West.
So it was appropriate that after “inventing” our family — Julie and I at least learned how to be married for almost three years, and we brought Jesse into the world — we began our next adventure in the West. We saw a lot of the country on the way out here, and we’re doing a lot of exploring here in Colorado. We’re growing into the West too. Manitou Springs is gorgeous. The photo at the top of this page is a glimpse of that snowfall in town. A few minutes to the east we have the red, craggy rocks of Garden of the Gods. To our west it feels like we’re boxed into the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains; we can see Pike’s Peak from the front porch of our little cabin. We’ve got the best of the beautiful West right here in front of us. We can go out and play in it just as easily as a child can go play on the swing set in his own backyard. And the history here is so palpable. You can hear it trickle in the natural springs in town. This is where those suffering with tuberculosis and other ailments came in the late 19th century to taste those waters and enjoy the Front Range air. You can see the history each time you stare at Pike’s Peak in the distance. Grainy, sepia photos come to mind showing branded covered wagons: “PIKES PEAK OR BUST.” Much like where we came from in Tennessee, this place’s stories and the stories’ people just seem to hang in the air. There’s so much to be learned here.
For the past few nights, Julie and I have been watching a documentary Ken Burns produced on the West in the ‘90s. Neither of us is very familiar with the detailed history out here, and this has been a nice primer. When the U.S. found itself stumbling westward, it had not much of an idea what was here. Vastly different settings and environments it found: snow-capped peaks here; red, dusty rocks there; lush wetlands in some places; dry deserts in others. Eventually it found gold and room for enterprise. The West offered prosperity to the U.S. It offered opportunities to mature the young nation and temper its people as they found their own ways and wrote their own stories.
But the people of the U.S. made many, many mistakes along the way, because the land wasn’t theirs — at least not at the start. While they made homesteads and towns, they pushed out the natives who had been here generations. In their adolescent ambition, the people of the U.S. — like a westbound locomotive — steamed over other peoples with fewer material accouterments but who had no less history and who were no less human. The. U.S.’s growth spurt was ugly and tragic in many ways.
Growing is sometimes like that. Once we have a little experience in life, after we’ve made what we think are a few necessary mistakes, we have the chance to reach higher. Sophomorically we rush headlong into whatever those opportunities are. And just because we’ve lived a little — be it through forming ourselves and planting our feet, to welcoming in someone new and going through a few tight times — we think we know what we’re doing. Sometimes we rush to the next adventure that will certainly be fun and different, if not difficult and bittersweet. But sometimes we make more mistakes and hurt others in the process. That’s the story of the West for the U.S. It was eventually established as part of our country, but we screwed up a lot on the way.
So here we Reneaus are in this big, wide-open country. It’s full of all these stories, so few we three actually know. But it’s beautiful. And it feels like our playground. We know why we came out here (Thank you Summit Ministries!), but outside of that, we don’t really know what we’re doing yet. We’ll have some fun and hopefully figure some things out. And we’ll grow. That’s for sure.
It’s been hard to leaves our homes, friends, and families. But, at least for now, we need to grow into the West. We need to learn who we — both our nation and our family — are. We need to learn how we’ll make it, removed from Eastern comfort. And we need to learn how to learn from mistakes.
The West is a beautiful place to adventure into. We’re already here, but somehow I can’t help but think of ourselves as the Westward Reneaus.