November 19, 2018
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Sue Hubbell, Milbridge essayist known for writing about beekeeping, dies at 83

In the end, Sue Hubbell died as she had lived — her way.

The author, essayist, farmer and beekeeper passed away Oct. 13, at the Bar Harbor home of her son Brian Hubbell, where she had been living since August.

She was 83-years-old and had been dealing with dementia, according to family members. A month prior to her death, she announced she was taking matters into her own hands.

“Sue decided that she strongly wished not to descend into dementia under indefinite institutional care,” her son said in an email this week to The New York Times. “So, on the morning of Sunday, Sept. 9, she ate her last grapefruit and informed her friends and doctor that she intended to stop eating and drinking. She stuck to her plan and died 34 days later, increasingly lucid through the last few days.”

According to the obituary emailed to the BDN by Brian Hubbell, his mother’s peaceful death came at the end of “a lifetime of unflinching observation of natural history.” He went on to describe her as “beekeeper, dog friend and resolute rationalist.”

The New York Times, in which her essays had appeared, reported Thursday that Hubbell “wrote quietly penetrating books and essays about her life as a beekeeper, a curious wanderer and a divorced woman navigating middle age.”

Hubbell published her first book, “A Country Year,” in 1986 and in it talked about coming to grips with the end of her first marriage which left her alone with 300 active beehives on a 90-acre farm.

It was a transition that she said forced her to become a bee expert, accountant and truck mechanic.

Hubbell was born Suzanne Gilbert on Jan. 28, 1935, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, according to Brian Hubbell and came from a “long line of cantankerous and strong-willed women. She attended Swarthmore College and the University of Michigan before eloping and then moving to California with her husband Paul Hubbell in 1955.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Southern California in 1956 and her Masters of Library Science at Drexel University in 1965.

In the late 1960s she and her husband lived in Rhode Island before striking out to explore the country with two Irish Setters in their Volkswagen van. In 1972 they moved to a farm in the Ozark Mountains in Missouri and took up beekeeping.

Hubbell began freelancing for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and eventually The New York Times to help supplement the income from the struggling honey bee operation.

After she and Paul Hubbell divorced in the early 1980s, Hubbell started chronicling her life on the farm in a series of essays and columns for The New York Times and for The New Yorker.

These essays became the basis for her books “A Book of Bees,” “Far-Flung Hubbell: Essays From the American Road” and “Waiting for Aphrodite: Journeys Into the Time Before Bones.”

While her books conveyed a passion for rustic living and nature, Hubbell did not believe a person had to homestead or live off the land to appreciate life.

In 1986 she told the Boston Globe, “You don’t have to sit on a farm in the Ozarks to watch and see things that are interesting. You can look at people going by, pieces of paper blowing! The important thing is to pay attention to what’s happening to you wherever you are. To give the present your full attention.”

In a 1998 Bangor Daily News feature about Hubbell, she was described as not only a hardcore writer, but also a chainsaw kind of woman who liked, bugs, earthworms, katydids and sea sponges and referred to her writing style as biology for English majors. She also wrote about pies, toothpick factories, magicians, truck stops and the National Bowling Hall of Fame.

At one point in her life she described in an essay the epiphany she had while laying on a creeper working under her Chevy.

“Becoming a farmer — Type: Other; Land Owned: 90 acres; Status: Single; Sex: Female; Age: 50 — has forced a competence upon me that I would never have had under other circumstances [and] that, I realize as I lie on the creeper under my Chevy, has made me outrageously happy.”

In 1988 she married her college friend Frank Sieverts, who passed away in 2004.

Hubbell, who had lived in Milbridge since at least the 1990s, was reported missing in August after wandering away from her home.

She was found late that same evening after a 14-hour extensive search by members of the Maine Warden Service and volunteers.

It was after that she moved in with her son in Bar Harbor.

Hubbell is survived by her son and her stepson Michael Sieverts, her stepdaughter Lisa Sieverts and a granddaughter.

Brian Hubbell told The New York Times that, in her final conversations with him, his mother said she considered the ending to her life that she had orchestrated “a triumph.”

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