Over the course of the past 3.5 years since moving to Colorado from Tennessee, I think I’ve been asked this question the most: “So, why Denver?”
I typically spit out some answer that includes how my uncle lives near Breckenridge, so every time we came out to visit I remembered how much I loved Colorado. The majority of folks nod and smile, and seem to find my response to be a valid one. I mean, duh, Colorado is b e a u t i f u l .
Truth be told, my first visit to Colorado was in the summer of 2003 right before my eighth grade year. There were very few visits… not a “every time we came out” sort of story. We came out for an extended family reunion at the YMCA camp at Estes Park. By extended family, I mean the Streuferts we never knew existed: distant cousins, third cousins twice removed… that sort of distant. It was strange in a lot of ways, but cool in so many others.
We ate cafeteria food at the camp, played soccer on the lawn out front (wheezing through it, as I recall, due to the altitude), and spent time meandering through shops in downtown Estes Park. I purchased my first pair of Chacos there, a size too big, and purple too no less. (Somewhere between then and now, I’ve come to loathe purple. I have no valid reasons why, so no need to ask).
Prior to driving to Estes Park, my more immediate extended family (cousins, aunts + uncles, grandparents) stayed at the Best Western near Lake Dillon in Summit County. I remember my brother and male cousins playing FIFA in their hotel room in the mornings while I convinced my dad to wake up with me to run around the lake (I made it 50 yards before I joined him walking. 10,000 feet up is no joke!). We cooked out by the lake, explored Breckenridge, and got to experience the beautiful county my uncle has called home for quite some time.
It was all new, fresh and unfamiliar. Yet, following that trip, I had no long-term goals of making Colorado my home.
I made it through eighth grade alright.. Most middle school stories seem to be similar: survival and moving on seem to be trending explanations. High school brought with it unfamiliarity of its own: A new school, new friendships in the making, new cliques to navigate and ignore. In the fall of 2004, unfamiliarity characterized my family’s life as we experienced unexpected loss. The shock of my brother’s death plunged us into an unknown that grows you like any severing of comfort zones does, but in this case, the new zone was highly uninvited. A few months later, we chose to leave the comforts of our holiday traditions at home and landed in Summit County again… a place we’d never celebrated the birth of Jesus before. That was an unfamiliar zone that was preferred, and a choice of place that changed the trajectory of home for me, I think.
We left snowy Summit County after Christmas that year and returned to Tennessee to rebuild our lives and concept of family. We pieced together what we could and held fast to faith in a God who knows much more than we will ever understand about love + loss. We continued on in the grace and trust that He cared about our suffering in 2004, and that He continues to mend, even now a decade and a half later.
I clung to the familiar through high school and even college as I decided to stay close to home. I think I unconsciously made those decisions out of my need to be near family, and I can say I loved that choice. Following college, the desire for the unfamiliar and uncomfortable came back around. I wanted more challenges, new terrain, and a path that allowed me to discover who I was apart from what I’d always known in my hometown place. Colorado was on my mind for 2 years through grad school, and upon graduating I almost moved out without a job just to make the dream happen. I ended up with a job; maybe an answer more to my parents’ prayers than my own in that transition, but nonetheless I’m grateful!
In January of 2016, I embarked cross country to make Denver my next blaze on a trail marked with so much good, hard parts and all. I remember balling my eyes out through Kansas as I drove behind the U-HAUL my dad drove in my front-wheel drive Kia Forte (it lasted three months in the mountains) wondering what sort of rash decision I’d made to leave home. (If you’ve driven through Kansas laterally, I’m sure this comes as no surprise. It felt like a wilderness I’d chosen for myself on my trail, which made it all the harder).
When we crossed into Colorado and the terrain still felt like Kansas, I remained a little apprehensive. Halfway across the state, though, when the mountains rose ahead of me, the concerns dissipated. The place–an unfamiliar and big city as it was–created excitement: a new + unknown place for discovery.
Fast forward 3.5 years and I’m still in this place: Denver has come to feel like home. It’s not because of the mountains, though it may seem so in my love for them. It’s not because I’ve figured out anything astonishingly new about myself, though there has been growth. It’s not because I escaped a comfort zone, though that has been refreshing and challenging in good ways.
What I attribute this feeling of home to is more simply the choice in choosing to make it one: of committing, no matter how familiar or unfamiliar it proves to be. I’m confident Tennessee could have been a lovely home for these past few years, just as Colorado has realistically been one. I’ve come to realize that every moment forward is unfamiliar in its own way, even while the familiarity of being rooted in a place creates a semblance of stability for us. (Life has proven to show me that any sense of control within it is faulty, so our sense of stability must ultimately come into play in something beyond our control and might, and rest in the steady belief that God remains loving, kind, and continually in pursuit of our good).
Now only 3.5 years into a ‘new’ place, I’ve already realized this continual desire to experience and observe what is more unknown still. Now that the Rockies have become more normalized, I’ve chosen to create art that highlights the red rock formations that are more prevalent the farther West you go into Utah and Arizona. My visits to Moab have opened my eyes to a whole new type of terrain and place where unfamiliarity breeds new discoveries. I’ve come to realize I’m fond of the sense of home, but also fond of taking the peace of it into new places with me.
In August this year, the Red Rock Series will be available to view at Hunter Bay Coffee Roasters in Olde Town Arvada, Colorado for the entire month. From there it will be displayed at Vouna in Olde Town throughout September. Over Labor Day Weekend, Peak One Art Studio will also have a tent at the Lake Dillon Fall Fest in downtown Dillon, Colorado.
I hope you enjoy thinking about how the unfamiliar has informed your own life as you stop by, sip coffee, and view the wood burned art!
You can follow along with the progress of the Red Rocks Series on Instagram @peakoneart.