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St. Louis Post-Dispatch from St. Louis, Missouri • Page 79

St. Louis, Missouri
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i i 1 ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH EVERYDAY SECTION 1 SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 1988 nv- ikir Sue Hubbell, beekeeper and author of "A Country Year: Living the Questions," uses a smoker to calm her bees so she can remove the frames containing honey. Sue Hubbell finds some I 1 .1 V'tJI-: of the answers to life's I 'IZ i A questions in the Ozarks ---Sv dUjlU fedr A' ft La at -s IK IT ABOVE: Hubbell uses a hand cart to move frames ready to have their honey extracted for processing. LEFT: On a narrow road near her home in the Ozarks, Hubbell stops her truck for a chat with a friend. Story by John M.

McGuire Photos by Scott Dine Of the Post-Dispatch Staff WHEN THE CBS television crew came to visit, it made the mistake of driving too close to a road grader that was leveling the red-dirt road. The crew, on assignment for Charles Kuralt's "Sunday Morning," was on the way to beekeeper Sue Hubbell's place in the Ozarks, which is several doglegs and a cutback turn along a network of gravel roads, miles from the nearest town. The rented van arrived in her driveway with one of its front tires perforated like a doily. The guy at the tire store in town, who used to teach at a university, fixed the flat and amused the city people with his bumpkin behavior, which he enjoys doing, Hubbell said. While this was going on, Hubbell began asking questions of the producer about how this or that worked and why.

She was curious about many things. The TV people told her she should stop in at the CBS studios when she was in New York. And so she did. While she was there, Hubbell recalled, a CBS editor explained to her that all the glory had gone from the business when film was abandoned in favor of videotape. Film was tangible and real, he said.

Tape was just so many electrons. Later on, Hubbell went to Bloomingdale's. The same CBS crew was there to tape her visit to Manhattan, by way of showing how far she had come from her bee farm in the hills of southern Missouri. She sells her honey to Bloomingdale's, and also to stores in St. Louis, Boston and Washington.

The head buyer for Bloomies was all sweetness, greeting her at the door and telling her how nice it was to see her. The same man had avoided her for years, not even returning her phone calls. Now, inside the store, there was a large display of her honey and stacks of her first book, "A Country Year: Living the Questions." Everyone was talking about her, and Sue Hubbell felt a part of the New York scene. Afterward, she returned to her truck parked blocks away, only to realize that she had left her hand cart at Bloomingdale's, the one she uses for lugging honey. Fifteen minutes later, she was back at the department store.

When she walked in, the honey and book displays were gone, and so was the memory of her. Who's Sue Hubbell? "Just so many electrons," she said. She told this story, occasionally wiping her forearm across her brow, as she worked in her bee house, harvesting this year's crop. It is monotonous and sticky work, scraping the wax from the frames with a hot knife, then loading the frames in a centrifuge, which spins the honey free of the wooden forms. This is not her favorite part of beekeeping, and one can see why.

At her request, we will not be precise in identifying where she lives in the Ozarks. She has 90 acres of land and cherishes her privacy. She is 53 and loves to say that she trusts no one under 50. How did a former librarian for Brown University ever get to this out-of-the-way Missouri high ground? It was sort of easy. Sue and Paul Hubbell, her former husband, an electrical engineer who taught biomedical The 'Rat Pack' At Swarthmore IN THE 1950s, at Swarthmore College, west of Philadelphia on the Main Line, Sue Gilbert became friends with some students who made up a conspicuous on-campus rat pack.

"The pyrotechnic brilliance of this group; for a girl from Kalamazoo, I was really overwhelmed," she said. One was Michael S. Dukakis, now the Democratic presidential nominee, and another was Dukakis' roommate, a very bright fellow named Frank A. Sieverts, known to his friends by his middle name, Arne. He became a Rhodes Scholar and just last year married Sue Gilbert, who by then was known as Sue Hubbell.

So Hubbell finds herself once again thinking of her old Swarthmore days. "It was a whole group of really brilliant people," she said, and it also included Victor Navasky, editor of the Nation; Chuck Cooper, an Exxon vice president; and Christopher Lehman-Haupt, The New York Times book reviewer. Dukakis, Sieverts, Navasky and Cooper roomed together. Sue Gilbert left Swarthmore in 1953, returning to her native state and the big university in Ann Arbor. "I was a kid from the Midwest and I wasn't ready for it.

I was certainly not covering myself See SIEVERTS, Page 10 Sue Hubbell in her 1954 Chevrolet pickup. engineering at the University of Rhode Island, had what she called an early midlife crisis. "We took off for a year with two Irish setters in a Volkswagen bus. We had liked this area when we came through. We came back here in the springtime and it was so beautiful.

What if we'd stopped somewhere else in the spring?" You may have heard of Sue Hubbell. Back in the mid-70s, she wrote a column for the Post-Dispatch, all of it having to do with country living and the creatures she shared space with in the Ozarks, mostly bees. Her first book began as an exercise in self-examination, therapeutic and not intended for publication, and wound up with Random House. One reviewer called the book "as elegant and quiet and well-made as one of the small wild things on her Ozark farm that delight this reflective author." She gives the impression that for a long time she didn't know she was a writer. But given her skill, that is hard to believe.

Her articles have appeared in Time, the New Yorker, the Smithsonian, The New York Times, Harper's and Sports Illustrated. Her pieces for the Hers column of The New York Times have a peppery feminist tone. Part of the floor of her house In the Ozarks is made of large stone. The rocker and throw rugs and light through the large window, with the hummingbird feeder hanging outside, suggest a portrait. She has a changing face, particularly as she moves in relation to the midafternoon light.

Always nearby is her dog, Tazzie, short for Tasmanian, a gift from her brother Bil Gilbert, himself a fine writer. Tazzie seems mostly German shepherd, but with soft edges. The bookshelves wrap around and cover parts of two walls. Some of what's there is predictable: Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring," brother Bil's "In God's Countries," "Walden," "A Little Treasury of Modern Poetry" and "Plant Diseases." And there is Hunter S. Thompson's "The Great Shark Hunt." The adjacent room is where she works.

Every morning, from 7 to 10, she is at one of two used Olivettis, bought for $15 each at a school auction, working on an article or manuscript. "My brain turns to cottage cheese in the afternoon," she said. The typewriters, which are as primitive as the surroundings, drive her New York editors to distraction. One has no legible characters on the keys; the other has no "The publisher sends my manuscripts out for retyping. I think I've got to spring for a new typewriter." She is currently writing about butterflies for the Smithsonian magazine, and resource material is scattered all over the place, on the floor and hanging from strings tacked to the ceiling.

A bulletin board just inside the door serves as a photo album, with color snapshots of her son, Brian, and his wife, Liddy, who are architects in Boston, and Hubbel's nephew, Ky, who has See HUBBELL, Page 12 rv. Dance Dancers from the Midwest share their frustrations at a conference at the University of Kansas. Art Joyce Carey's "Glad Rag" is an example of the fiber work featured at three exhibitions. Books "Love," William Faulkner's first short story, appears in print for the first time in the current issue of the Missouri Review. 4 4 PAGE PAGE PAGE II rifcj 1 fcn.lliiil.liii lit I HI i Hi.

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