Today, a glider pilot seeks quiet. The University
of Houston's College of Engineering presents this
series about the machines that make our
civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity
We best know Charles
Lindbergh's wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, for her
1955 book, Gift From the Sea. It changed
our view of the ocean, by making the sea into a
metaphor for life itself. She tended to do that —
to encode parts of her life that did not yield to
mere exposition, and thus make them understandable.
Of course we do that with our technologies, since
machines are also metaphors for some deep-seated
part of ourselves. Now I learn about a particular
machine that Anne Morrow Lindbergh subsumed into
her rich metaphorical subtext. It was the
Anne Morrow and Charles Lindbergh married in 1929,
a year after she graduated from Smith College. She
already had a great deal of aerial experience by
the time she learned to pilot a Burnner-Winkle
airplane, in 1931. She'd navigated for Charles; then
she'd become the first American woman with a
first-class glider pilot's license.
The newlywed Lindberghs had gone to San Diego to
study with the noted glider-maker, Henry
Hawley Bowlus. There, they both gained first
class licenses. And they did so just when the press
paparazzi were hounding them most unmercifully.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh speaks very directly to that
experience in her book, The Unicorn and Other
Poems. She writes,
Free as a gull,
Alone upon a single shaft of air
No man can touch,
No shout can reach, ...
Anyone, riding updrafts in an engineless craft,
finds that reverence for quiet. Anne's daughter
Reeve said to me, "I don't know if she ever wrote
it down, but mother told me that 'the cure for
loneliness is solitude'." Anne had also told Reeve
about "columns of air, stretching like massive tree
trunks between earth and sky."
Although Anne Lindbergh did glider flying only
during that brief period, the experience
nevertheless held a central place in the rest of
her life. That strongly emerges from another book,
Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead — a collection
of Anne's correspondence beginning just before her
marriage to Charles, and continuing through the
kidnapping and death of their first child.
The glider experience is an important part of her
three-year hour of gold. Her first solo
flight was, she said, "perfectly serene and happy."
In the misery of her subsequent hour of
lead, the metaphor continues to serve her. Now
In that airy quietness ...
I would think until I found ...
Something lying on the ground,
In the bottom of my mind.
That echoes from my own childhood. I would dream of
gliding above the clamor — soaring in the
whispering quiet, of which she writes,
A word falls in the silence like a star,
Searing the empty heavens with the scar
Of beautiful and solitary flight.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds
A. M. Lindbergh, The Unicorn and Other
Poems. New York: Pantheon Books Inc., 1956. (The
first and last poems from which I quote are from this
source. They are titled, Even and
A. M. Lindbergh, Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead:
Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh
1929-1932. New York: Harcourt Brace
For an online thumbnail biography of Anne Morrow
For more on A.M.L. as a pilot, see,
I am very grateful to: Bob Phillips, UH Creative
Writing program for substantial counsel; Reeve
Lindbergh Tripp (daughter of Charles and Anne
Morrow Lindbergh) for the fine insights she
provided; and writer and glider pilot Alexis Glynn
Latner for both pressing me to do the episode and
for additional information.
The Lindberghs: Anne in the cockpit of a Bowlus
glider and Charles standing. Jan. 31, 1930.
The Engines of Our Ingenuity is
Copyright © 1988-2003 by John H.