Sue Hubbell,
illustrations by Liddy Hubbell,
Waiting for Aphrodite:
Journeys into the Time Before Bones

(Houghton Mifflin, 1999)

Sue Hubbell expands her focus from insects to the rest of the invertebrate world in Waiting for Aphrodite.

The book begins with a prologue in which Hubbell describes her decision to give up her farm in the Ozarks. For readers of her previous books, this may produce a pang, but her description of her transition to Maine and the ugly little house in which she found such promise provides solace.

In Maine, the exploration of tidal pools opens the way for Hubbell's deeper exploration into invertebrates, including barnacles, mussels, sea stars and sea urchins, the enigmatic sea mouse -- Aphrodite aculeata, the "Aphrodite" of the title -- fireflies, horseshoe crabs and more.

Hubbell notes that it doesn't do to be smug about having a backbone. She points out that invertebrates have been around for a long time, far longer than vertebrates. She also points out that while invertebrates would get along fine without human beings, we are dependent "on the life processes they have initiated and keep going."

Her subjects and locales range from the common to the exotic, from earthworms to sea sponges, from the coast of Maine to Belize. She climbs to a walkway in the trees and ascends to a platform from where she can contemplate the rainforest's canopy. Millipedes, stingless bees and wood lice also come under Hubbell's scrutiny. Finally, a lobster fisherman brings her what she has hoped to see: samples of sea mice, her Aphrodite. The book concludes with an epilogue in the new house in Maine which both brings things full circle and projects into the future.

Hubbell's prose is graceful, lovely and lucid, and her insights and connections are clear and illuminating. Hubbell's relationship to each subject layers her prose; she writes not only about the creature itself but also about her reflections on her life and on the world in general, blending in poetry, mythology, philosophy and history.

After you read Sue Hubbell's Waiting for Aphrodite, the world will never look quite the same again.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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