Community Forum: Remembering Sue Hubbell

by Martha Barron Barrett


After reading several fine obituaries about Sue Hubbell, the nationally known writer and adventurer-in-living, it occurred to me to add the perspective of Sue as I knew her: a Wyman Road woman. Technically, her address was the narrow Tom Leighton Point Road that extends into the woods beyond the Wyman corners, where a hundred years ago fancy sail and steam ships from Boston docked and liveries from Milbridge bounced the passengers off to the Cherryfield train station. It was a place where children would gather to smear mustard from the sardine cannery on homemade biscuits and call it supper.

I first met Sue at the point of that peninsula road 25 or so years ago. She was introduced as a writer, most recently of “Far Flung” essays for the New Yorker, who was searching for a home in the area. Finally, she bought what resembled a 1950s ranch that had been for sale for a number of years. Not on the water as she had hoped, but up a long, steep driveway where she — after using her chainsaw on offending shrubs and trees — would sit on the porch with local friends and gaze out over the road to the bay and lobster boats beyond.

For the interior of the house, she and her son designed a great room supported by friendly tree trunks, harvested nearby, and a wood stove that used five and a half cords a season. From the south side sprouted a bright garden room, where for many winters she generously and joyfully tended my geraniums and gerberas and even an orchid. Overall, the inside had the spare, clean feel of art and books; her workroom held — after a protracted avoidance — a computer, but the tall pine stand supporting an open Oxford English Dictionary dominated. Her tiny east-facing bedroom of windows — perched at the top of open stairs, where one might expect to find a widow’s walk — appeared to be both a nest of privacy and proclamation of freedom.

Sue told me her love of the natural world began when she and her brother, older by seven years, walked from their isolated home to school across grassy park-like land in Kalamazoo, Mich. He taught her to pause, find, examine, understand what lived there. Flora and fauna, as wild wonders and scientific subjects, would intrigue both of them all their lives. Sue’s many published essays and books attest to this, and during her 83 years she would be labeled a naturalist, preservationist, ecologist, environmental activist and defender of endangered species.

Her clothes and face reflected that indoor-outdoor blend. Her daily morning walks with Annie, her last black Lab, were strenuous and covered many acres of the “mountain” behind her house; and her afternoon Wyman Road walks, although they ranged far from macadam, usually included interactions with a variety of road-talking friends. She believed in the time-honored ways of random face-to-face conversations, most likely about the small matters of a small town, of who and what and where and when. Sue had definite views and bluntly expressed them. She also had a strong desire to mentor others, as her brother had her.

Three miles or so north of the corners and the community church — past scattered dooryards, piles of lobster traps, neatly painted houses — the Wyman Road eases onto Route 1. From the yield sign to the bridge across the Narraguagus River snuggles the shopping center of western Washington County: Milbridge. For two decades, Sue Hubbell could often be seen there, usually in the post office, town office, or library, less frequently in the supermarket. Food was not high on her list of interests. At selectmen’s meetings or the annual Town Meeting she might stroll to the podium — lanky in her jeans with stray hairs flying from her bun — to softly deliver some factual material, often pertaining to planning/zoning issues, on whose committee she served for many years.

On Oct. 13, 2018, Sue Hubbell walked on. The Wyman Road will miss her.

Writer Martha Barron Barrett is the author of “Slow Travel: Two Women of a Certain Age — and Modest Means — Leave Home.” She lives in Milbridge. Sue Hubbell died at the Bar Harbor home of her son and daughter-in-law, Brian and Liddy Hubbell. She was 83.


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