Sue Hubbell in 1991. (Photo credit: Nancy Stacel)

Following a lifetime of unflinching observation of natural history, on October 13, author, beekeeper, dog friend and resolute rationalist Sue Hubbell died peacefully with courage and characteristic deliberation at 83 while under homecare in Bar Harbor.

Born Suzanne Gilbert and preceded by a maternal line of cantankerous and strong-willed women, Hubbell was raised in Kalamazoo, Mich., where her father, Leroy Gilbert, was municipal park superintendent.

After attending Swarthmore College and the University of Michigan, following an enduring romance sparked by a high school game of craps, Hubbell eloped with her college sweetheart, Paul Hubbell, and the couple moved to Los Angeles which, in the American midcentury, surely offered nothing but exhilarating promise for two bright Kalamazoo misfits in a Cadillac driveaway.

There, with an infant son, Hubbell completed her undergraduate degree in journalism at the University of Southern California.

From Los Angeles, she then followed her husband's employment to El Paso, Texas in 1957 and to Moorestown, New Jersey in 1959.

In Moorestown, while mothering her school-aged child, Hubbell managed a small bookshop, earned a graduate degree from Drexel University in Philadelphia, and eventually gained employment as acquisitions librarian at Trenton State College.

In the late 1960s, Hubbell became the periodicals librarian at Brown University in Providence.  As student counselors, she and her husband both became greatly engaged in the politics of the times.

In 1972, the Hubbells sold their house in Rhode Island and traveled across the continent for a year in a modified Volkswagen microbus before eventually settling on a hardscrabble farm in the Missouri Ozarks near Mountain View, where they raised bees and became adept at the mechanics of living close to the land as the recession following the 1973 energy crisis rolled through the heartland. For the rest of her life, Hubbell remained proud of her skills with a chainsaw and splitting maul.

To supplement their irregular income from farming, Hubbell returned to freelance writing as a periodic columnist for the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch and the New York Times.

Even as the brute drudgery and travel of honey sales eventually ended Hubbell’s first marriage, the several lean years of holding the farm together through the early 1980s provided the roots and grist that gained Hubbell success as a widely read author with the publication in 1986 of her memoir A Country Year: Living the Questions and her second natural history, A Book of Bees.

The memoir also caught the attention of Hubbell’s Swarthmore classmate, Frank Arne Sieverts, a specialist in refugee issues at the U.S. State Department.

Recently divorced himself, Sieverts boldly contacted Hubbell through her publisher, the two rekindled their acquaintance, and they married in 1988.

Through the 1990s, Hubbell split her year between the Ozarks and Washington, D.C., where she spent much time researching at the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Museum for her third book, Broadsides from the Other Orders: A Book of Bugs.

During these years, she wrote frequently for the New Yorker under the editorship of Bob Gottlieb, and also for Time Magazine, the Smithsonian, and continued with occasional travel pieces for the New York Times.

In the late 1990s, she gave up her farm in the Ozarks, razing the buildings and conveying the land to the state of Missouri, and moved to Milbridge, Maine, to be nearer to her son, her daughter-in-law, and granddaughter.  

From Maine, she published her last two books, Waiting for Aphrodite on marine invertebrates and Shrinking the Cat about evolutionary engineering.

Hubbell was predeceased by her second husband, Frank Arne Sieverts, and her brother, author Bil Gilbert.

She is survived by her son and daughter-in-law Brian and Liddy Hubbell of Bar Harbor, her granddaughter Nora Hubbell of Boulder, Colo.; her first husband, Paul Hubbell of Tempe, Ariz.; stepson Michael Sieverts of Arlington, Va..; and stepdaughter Lisa Sieverts of Nelson, N.H.

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