Picks and Pans Review: A Country Year: Living the Questions

updated 04/21/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/21/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Sue Hubbell

The author of this evocative book was a librarian at Brown University in Providence, R.I. and married to a college teacher when they pulled up stakes in search of a new way of living. They settled on a 90-acre farm in the Missouri Ozarks 14 years ago, and after a few years the husband decided to go his own way. The autobiographical details Hubbell provides are sparse; this volume of brief essays, grouped by seasons, is heavier on nature studies than gossip. In the town, the author became known as the Bee Lady, a title she wears with pride; she still makes her modest living as a beekeeper, bottling the honey and trucking it to markets in New York and Dallas, where people will pay more for the special wildflower product. She writes: "My bees cover one thousand square miles of land that I do not own in their foraging flights, flying from flower to flower for which I pay no rent, stealing nectar but pollinating plants in return. It is an unruly, benign kind of agriculture, and making a living by it has such a wild, anarchistic, raffish appeal that it unsuits me for any other, except possibly robbing banks." In this book, no insect is too small (mites in a moth's ear, for example) to escape Hubbell's affectionate attention, her imaginative research and cool appraisal. Among the subjects she deals with in addition to beekeeping are dogs, cats, wildflowers, birds, ferns, frogs, truck repair, snakes, bats, spiders, chain saws, a festive pig roast ("One little boy had cried when my rooster chased him, but other than that everyone had had a good time"), deer, chiggers, carpentry, grandparents, chickens, motherhood, a recipe for wild persimmon pie, coyotes, National Public Radio, a ratchet wrench, mud, termites and caterpillars. Each of these subjects undergoes Hubbell's thoughtful inspection, and she in turn gives the reader, in prose as clear, languorous and beautiful as honey poured from a jar, original insights that could make us rethink our lives. (Random House, $17.95)

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