Right in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains here we are, the five of us, this motley crew, surrounded by 4000 cadets.
The Air Force Academy is sprawled over acres and acres of land. “I’ve seen bears here,” says Bill. “Great big deer. Loads of wild turkey.” I can believe it too. Beyond us it’s just wild. You drive a long way from the gate to the first building. There’s a B-52 bomber sitting by the road. Then it’s just trees, and the occasional cadet doing exercise in the morning light until you get to the squat grey buildings, huge and labyrinthine, in which we do our classes.
I had three of them back to back first thing today and I’ve got three first thing tomorrow. Thursday is more relaxed for me although I’ll be chauffeur for the early morning class, back in for the obscurely named “Brown Bag Tour” and having to be still awake and full of energy to do the show in a 4,000 seat auditorium at high altitude in the evening. Considering how much I sweat when we are at sea level, I’m expecting a workout. And depending on the layout of the theatre we may or may not have to do some serious vocal warm-ups. We are a low-fi show and this theatre has an orchestra pit between us and the audience. The first row of seats is going to be a very very long way away from us. It’s going to be a huge shift, having just played our smallest venue, to bang it out into a larger one. But at Denton five years ago we played to an audience that was twenty feet away with an organ between us and them, and it still landed, although we had to make a few changes to bring things further forward.
At lunch they all march in, forty squadrons, accompanied by a brass band. They do it every day. Then they eat together in a huge hall overlooking the foothills. Freshmen on one side of each table, seniors on the other, mixing up the year groups. “It takes years just to get from one side of the table to the other,” quips Bill. We are eating on the officer’s deck, above them all.
We are unexpectedly introduced over a tannoy and encouraged by our escort to wave like the Queen to the sea of cadets below us. 4000 people clap us for smiling. It’s a staggering experience to be here like this. We are the first AFTLS group that has come into this particular institution. It feels like it’s where the work is most necessary, with people in tight regimes, to open up the possibility of personal connection to making art, poetry and beauty. As with Maryland so with Colorado and I only wish that we could come to an army college as well and fully understand the difference between the three services.
Joe the huge cadet today was talking poetically in a workshop about the light on the corn back home, and how it meant it was football time. So many cadets today just connected with something unusual to them through the lines in Shakespeare and their own lives. If I can go away and one of these cadets gives themselves permission to write something beautiful about how they see the world up there in the stratosphere at MACH 2 or whatever, then it’s worth all the early mornings and more.
This tour is coming to an end. It’s been amazing. What a place to end it. Dear God it’s beautiful here, and if this weather holds it’ll be a stunning final residency.
A year ago on Camino, Mel caught up with me in O’Cebreiro. The weather was much the same. Shocking bright sun on a snow filled world.