32 Books in 32 Days – Day 20: The Bullhead Queen

Each day leading up to the April 17 announcement of the 22nd Annual Minnesota Book Awards, we highlight one of the thirty-two finalists. Today, we feature


Memoir & Creative Nonfiction Finalist,
The Bullhead Queen: A Year on Pioneer Lake
Sue Leaf

An excerpt from The Bullhead Queen: A Year on Pioneer Lake:

My writing desk is at a window that frames a large red maple in our yard. In late March, with patches of snow lingering and Pioneer Lake still solidly frozen, the maple buds, the earliest flowers of a northern spring, have swelled and grown rosy. I can’t imagine a more tangible expression of expectancy. As Lent progresses, week by week, I will watch the buds enlarge, the red casings split to reveal the flower, the thread-like stamens standing exposed to the wind, wafting powdery pollen like tiny puffs of smoke. The flowers consist only of stamens and pistils, the necessary parts for a wind-pollinated plant that does not have to attract pollinators by a bright show of colorful petals. The maple flower is a paradigm of modesty and economy. By Easter, the tiny flowers will have burst open, though few will hail their appearance. There could be no more self-effacing bloom. – Sue Leaf

In her beautifully written memoir, the author embarks on a year’s worth of meditations to familiar, ordinary places on Pioneer Lake. While contemplating the beauty and power of what she sees, Sue Leaf also reflects on how her relationship to nature has been influenced by her Christian upbringing and what influence the seasons have on religion.


Sue Leaf is a former college instructor in biology and environmental science. She has a gift for interweaving a scientific understanding of humanity’s impact on the environment alongside graceful prose. Sue is the president of Wild River Audubon and is also the author of Potato City: Nature, History, and Community in the Age of Sprawl. Her essays have appeared in Minnesota Monthly, Utne Reader, Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, and Architecture Minnesota. She lives in Center City, Minnesota, on the shore of Pioneer Lake.


“Mediations on the nature the author observes on Pioneer Lake through the seasons of the year are beautifully written, and very poetic. The seasons follow the liturgical calendar. The memoir will greatly appeal to nature lovers, and those who enjoy reading meditations.” – Minnesota Book Awards Judge

“What a privilege to skate across Walden-sized Pioneer Lake with Sue Leaf and see, through her keen eyes, what lies beneath winter’s first, clear ice. Leaf’s fond attention to nature, her biologist’s knowledge, evenhanded judgment, and graceful prose make these essays a pleasure to read. Yet the course they follow through the cycle of seasons and the Christian liturgical year dips below lovely surfaces to examine the threats we human creatures pose to creation. Among nature writers, Sue Leaf is a Minnesota treasure.” – Cheri Register, author of Packinghouse Daughter and Beyond Good Intentions

“Like the late Paul Gruchow’s Journal of a Prairie Year, Sue Leaf’s The Bullhead Queen records a sensitive observer’s impressions of local animals, plants, and a partly developed lake across Minnesota’s seasons. This is a gentler, plainspoken book that finds its truths in what is most local and personal—a breviary for humbler, semi-wild/semi-developed places.” – Jan Zita Grover, author of Northern Waters


Award winners will be announced at the 22nd Annual Minnesota Book Awards Gala on Saturday, April 17, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, in downtown Saint Paul. The opening reception begins at 6:30 p.m.; followed by the awards ceremony at 8 p.m. Tickets are $40 and are available by clicking here or calling 651-222-3242.

Have you read The Bullhead Queen? What are your thoughts? We welcome your comments!

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