Waiting for Aphrodite Essay - Critical Essays

Waiting for Aphrodite

Noted for her mingling of scientific writing and personal narrative, Sue Hubbell provides a fascinating account of marine life in the tidal pools along the Maine coast. While descriptions of her move from the Ozark Mountains to Maine form the prologue of Waiting for Aphrodite: Journeys Into the Time Before Bones, Hubbell’s main interest is invertebrates, which both predate humans by eons, having first appeared in Precambrian times, and outnumber us millions to one. Humorously, Hubbell notes our arrogance in labeling such creatures “invertebrates” solely because we believe our backbones important. Giants compared to the tiny bugs which truly possess the world we inhabit, we nonetheless find parasites “loathsome” because we cannot appreciate their role in the ecological balance and, through sheer ignorance, overlook the intelligent behavior of many small animals.

Through her detailed observations of the diversity and efficiency of invertebrates, Hubbell enlivens evolutionary theory and makes clear the importance of all life forms. Excitement and wonder spring from every page. While Hubbell’s title, Waiting for Aphrodite, alludes to the elusive sea mouse, Aphrodite Aculeata, whose rarity and beauty spark the author’s imagination, readers also learn that sponges are 600 million years old, and that important ecological functions are served by such unheralded creatures as the camel cricket, the nudibranch, and the pill bug, which playfully curls into a ball whenever disturbed, an attribute humans lack.

Illustrated and indexed, Waiting for Aphrodite offers a short bibliography at the end of each chapter and can easily serve as a guide for tidal pool or insect enthusiasts. An occasional poem amid scientific data gives the book a whimsical slant. Readers who enjoy Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) or Lewis Thomas’s The Lives of a Cell (1974) will find much pleasure in Hubbell’s book. It is both informative and beautifully written.