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The Bullhead Queen

A Year on Pioneer Lake

2009
Author:

Sue Leaf

The Bullhead Queen

An evocative memoir exploring the relationship between humans and nature through the liturgical calendar

Sue Leaf exemplifies the moral aspect of humans to nature through a collection of engaging meditations on the places she sees every day on Pioneer Lake in east-central Minnesota. Reflecting on the birds she peers at through binoculars and the Lutheran church that anchors the lake’s southern shore, Leaf contemplates how her relationship to nature has been colored by the Christian theology of her childhood.

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

The Western approach to nature has always operated under both spiritual and scientific views. While Christianity decrees that human beings have dominion over nature, evolutionary biology teaches us that we are but highly adapted animals among a biological network of millions of other species. What is our proper relationship to wild animals—and what is our responsibility to them?

In The Bullhead Queen, Sue Leaf exemplifies the moral aspect of humans to nature through a collection of engaging meditations on the places she sees every day on Pioneer Lake in east-central Minnesota. Reflecting on the birds she peers at through binoculars and the Lutheran church that anchors the lake’s southern shore, Leaf contemplates how her relationship to nature has been colored by the Christian theology of her childhood. Acknowledging the influence of the church on her view of the natural world, she follows the liturgical calendar as a thread, chronicling the change of seasons over the year.

Leaf considers the results of the assumption that nature is ours to use: we continue to fish, trap, and hunt animals whose populations are ghosts of their former selves and produce mounting environmental pressures on their habitats. Observing the ways in which the heavy hand of human beings has changed the landscape of Pioneer Lake, and many others like it, she also rejoices in the ways in which the lakes remain wild and exuberant, influencing the lives of all who encounter them.

The Bullhead Queen

Sue Leaf is a freelance writer and the author of Potato City: History, Nature, and Community in the Age of Sprawl. Her essays have appeared in Minnesota Monthly, Utne Reader, Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, and Architecture Minnesota. A former college instructor in biology and environmental science, she holds a doctorate in zoology from the University of Minnesota. She is president of Wild River Audubon and lives in Center City, Minnesota, on the shore of Pioneer Lake.

The Bullhead Queen

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 gentle, plainspoken book that finds its truths in what is most local and personal—a breviary for humble, semiwild/semideveloped places.

Jan Zita Grover

Leaf’s calm and restorative prose provides a perfect read with your morning coffee.

The Minneapolis Observer Quarterly

The Bullhead Queen is an introspective study of Leaf’s own Minnesota backyard, and while she documents the changing of seasons she offers a fresh look at the world and how humans fit into it.

Northern Wilds

Leaf’s Christian beliefs color her relationship with nature, the liturgical calendar running in tandem with the seasons as one green season compliments the other, and are balanced by her biology and environmental science background to make the book enjoyable for all readers.

Anne Thillen, Woodbury-South Maplewood Review

The author’s smooth transition and intermingling of nature, people, and belief engages the reader; each essay complete in itself but taken as a whole becoming a stirring observation.

Metro Lutheran

In the tradition of Paul Gruchow and Annie Dillard—but with her own distinct style and message — Leaf examines the intersections of science and fait, and of the natural and developed worlds. Her essays are tightly written, wise, sometimes funny and quintessentially Minnesotan.

Star Tribune

The rhythm of Minnesota’s seasons pulses gently through Sue Leaf’s new book of essays, The Bullhead Queen: A Year on Pioneer Lake. Leaf’s graceful essays merge keen observation of the natural world with reflections on how humans use, enjoy, learn from, and sometimes abuse it. But this is no polemic. Beginning with Advent, the start of the Christian year, Leaf follows the liturgical and secular calendar, deftly interweaving strands of family, community, and memory with her training in biology, zoology, and environmental science.

Minnesota History

The Western approach to nature has always operated under both spiritual and scientific views. What is our proper relationship to wild animals, and what is our responsibility to them? In this book, Sue Leaf exemplifies the moral aspect of humans to nature through a collection of engaging meditations on the places she sees every day.

APADE

Beautifully-written, meditative essays by a keen-eyed, quiet, and thoughtful observer of the natural world.

WELCA Book Nook