Finding Baby Sugg’s Holy Clearing in Iowa

After a year in the desert, I desperately needed to walk among trees.  From my mother’s farm, we drove 90 miles north into Winnebago County, along Highway 9 to Pilot Knob State Park.

And the trees welcomed us.

We climbed to the highest summit, the top of a glacial kame, and turned to look in every direction.  The entire landscape was a patchwork of green under the blue summer sky.

We continued an easy hike along the trail to Dead Man’s Lake.  Swans trumpeted and frogs jumped back into the sphagnum moss when we walked by.

We followed the signs to the amphitheater where I found myself transported into Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved.

“When warm weather came, Baby Suggs, holy, followed by every black man, woman and child who could make it through, took her great heart to the Clearing – a wide-open place cut deep in the woods nobody knew for what at the end of a path known only to deer and whoever cleared the land in the first place.”

Sitting at the edge of the circle at the bottom of a tree, I recalled Baby Suggs’ sermon in the woods.

“She did not tell them to clean up their lives or to go and sin no more.  She did not tell them they were the blessed of the earth, its inheriting meek or its glorybound pure.

She told them that the only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine.  That if they could not see it, they would not have it.”

For a moment, I saw Grace among the trees.

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