La Madrugada

SAN JOSE  COSTA RICA   Viernes  26  de octubre del 2005  

Who is Sally Glean?
Sally Glean Center for the Avian Arts
Translated from the Spanish by M. Mora Morena. Used with the permission of the author.  

photo- flight from San Jose

The flight from San Jose

photo - last seen at Palmar Sur airport

Last seen at Palmar Sur

photo- the woman with the chamoagne?

Was she the woman with the champagne?

photo- aviary near Sirena

The aviary near Sirena

photo- the anniversary frigate bird

The anniversary frigate bird

We know Sally Glean as an accomplished musician, a seasoned aviatrix, a loyal friend, and a conservationist who cares deeply about Mother Earth— that much is  commonly agreed. Much of the rest is conjecture and rumor, for little is known of her private life. Though she spends her summers in Canada and the northern United States, she lives most of the year in Latin America, where she is constantly on the go, preserving habitat for migrating birds. If asked how she finances these projects, she smiles enigmatically like the Mona Lisa.

It has been over a year since I last saw her. Under a brooding sky threatening rain, I offered to drive Sally Glean to Santamaria airport near San Jose. She had booked a commercial flight to the airfield at
Palmar Sur— little more than a strip of asphalt with a windsock— where her plane was stranded for want of a part.

As wind gusts whipped across the tarmac, I stole a nervous glance at the cloud-wrapped cordillera. Nor was I comforted by the airliner— a plane so small that the passengers were seated according to their weight, with the heaviest boarding first. Sally was the last one up the ladder, and at the top she turned to me and smiled.  I can still see her cradling in one arm the new part for her engine, wrapped in brown butcher paper, in the other a large box of Godiva chocolates she was bringing to a friend in Flamingo. As I waved for the last time, she mouthed the words "pura vida."

Although Sally Glean arrived safely in Palmar Sur, repaired her plane, and took off later that day
as planned, she never arrived in Flamingo. Initially, I thought she had altered her plans in response to the weather. On several occasions when I flew with her, she changed direction en route, once by 180 degrees. It was her habit to land in a farmer's field, then spend the night in the rainforest snug inside of a snake-proof hammock she had made to her own design. So I wasn't too concerned until I read in the   Tico Times that her plane had vanished without a trace.

Shortly thereafter, the sightings began. A vacationing American doctor reported that he had met someone who looked like the missing flyer on a beach in western Panama. The woman had a case of champagne and was signaling to a yacht cruising just beyond the surf. A month later, a hotel owner on the Osa Peninsula complained to authorities that a woman of Sally's description released the birds in his aviary— then had disappeared into the jungle.

A week later, on the main highway to the Caribbean coast, police found two men locked in a bird cage that had been left on the side of the road. They told an incoherent story about being set upon by a gang of ruffians dressed in green parrot suits, led by a gringa who played the flute. Later, Interpol confirmed that the men were wanted for wildlife smuggling.

On the anniversary of Sally’s disappearance, the captain of a dive boat in the Gulf of Papagayo reported a swirling column of frigate birds so thick that from a distance they looked like smoke. As he drew closer, he saw a woman on the stern of a motor launch tossing them fish. The captain thought she looked familiar, but only later did he realize that the woman he saw was Sally Glean.

When I heard the diver's story, I reread a letter that Sally had sent me, one that had arrived on the day of her disappearance. It contained a photograph of a frigate bird she had taken from the cockpit of her plane on a fly-by of Cocos Island. Looking at it again, I recalled that Sally had disappeared before, often flying solo to Canada or South America, giving recitals of the flute along the way, an instrument she played to perfection, only to reappear unannounced to a succession of friends. With Sally, you always felt that the conversation had been suspended only momentarily, though entire seasons may have gone by.

Inspired by her life, Sally's friends and supporters, from all over the world, have joined together to form an organization in her honor. Sally, we hope you are reading this.

                      Sally Glean Home