The High Temple of Unstuff
Johanna Large, Staff Writer
Billows Height, Iowa.
When you think of Iowa, you think of primaries and presidential caucuses every four years. You think of football and the Iowa State Hawkeyes. You think of rolling hills and the Mississippi River on the east, the Missouri on the west. What you don't think of, however, what you probably wouldn't even imagine in your wildest dreams, is a colony of naturists who pride themselves not in what they have, but in what they don't have.
Jim King, senior editor of The Standard, looked up from the news copy.
"Wait," he said. "They're not South Dakota?"
Sitting across the desk from him, Johanna shook her head. "No, I finally found them in Iowa, about thirty miles across the state line."
Jim nodded, but frowned. "And they're really a bunch of naturists? Not paramilitary?"
Johanna raised her eyebrows and rolled her hand, as if to say, It's all in there, just keep reading.
Jim nodded again and returned to the copy.
"People are always clinging to stuff," says Marcus Sleighton, founder and leader of the group. He uncrosses and crosses his legs, and conspicuously scratches a delicate itch down below. "Out here we like to be different. We have no religions, no god and no heaven." He raises an eyebrow then and adds, "And certainly no hell."
Marcus came to the United States back in the 1980s with only himself and his wife, and smiles when he talks about the commune, about where they've been and how they've grown as a group, starting with only him and his wife and now reaching more than three hundred.
At the commune, there are many things noticeably missing. There are no televisions, radios, or newspapers. As a group, outside of weekly excursions into town for necessary supplies (the only time anyone wears clothing it seems) they are completely isolated from the rest of the world. "Being alone," Marcus adds, "just us and nothing but the surrounding nature to cherish, it helps the group to grow closer together."
One of the members, Lisa Whitlow, talks about how she joined the community. "For years, I could never find my place in the world," she says. "Everywhere I went, I always felt like I didn't fit." She looks out a nearby window, a smile on her face. "Here though, I'm just like everyone else. Here, I don't have to put on anything. They love me for who I am."
Jim stopped reading again.
"So Lisa Whitlow isn't being held against her will?"
"It appears that she's happy right where she's at," Johanna said.
Jim rolled his eyes.
"It takes all kinds to make a world. Her parents will be disappointed, and they'll probably disagree with us."
Johanna shrugged, and Jim kept reading.
In the commune, there is strong evidence of the bonds and community they proclaim. In every building, and even in the bathrooms, one can easily spot pictures of Marcus and his wife with inspirational slogans, like "Believe in Yourself" and "All Things Are Possible." Every morning, before a breakfast of granola and yogurt, the group joins together to recite their mission statement and sing "Imagine."
The group is fighting a lawsuit from the nearby community of Billows Heights. Town Council Chairman, Mark Littleton, tells how he wants the community to relocate. "The town doesn't need this kind of reputation," he says. "If they wan't to live like the day they were born, they can do it somewhere else. We don't need our young boys and girls wandering over there, being exposed to... well, overexposure."
In addition to their lifestyle, the group has seen opposition of a different sort. It has been accused of terrorist activities, burning buildings and shooting out windows, but Marcus refutes it all. "Really? Look around. Show me where the guns are. See if you can find any evidence of hate. I guarantee you, you won't find it."
True to his word, there is nothing in the commune that suggest the group hates anyone. "Love is the answer," one member says. "All we need is love," another adds.
"We're not looking for any trouble," Marcus says. "We just want to be left alone, to live our lives the way we think best."
And what about that? What about living without clothing in Iowa, where each winter it snows.
Marcus just smiles. "With the way things are going, climate change and all, in ten years Iowa will be the new Florida."
Finished with the copy, Jim looked up at Johanna.
"Good stuff," he said.
"I'll send this over to the copyreaders, and it should make the weekend edition."
"I can't put it on page one, though," Jim added. "It reads more like it belongs in the Lifestyle section."
As Johanna stood to leave, Jim stopped her.
"I'm sorry to hear about your sister. Have the authorities found any leads yet?"
Tears filled Johanna's eyes. "Not yet." She pointed to the copy. "At least the Whitlows know their daughter is safe."
In the parking garage, Johanna approached a brown Ford pickup with South Dakota plates. The driver rolled down the window.
"Well," Marcus said. "He buy it?"
"Every word. He thinks you're just a bunch of wacky nudists in Iowa." Johanna wiped away more tears. "About my sister..."
Marcus nodded. "As I promised, we'll release her just as soon as the story hits the news stands. When is that going to happen, by the way?"
"Good. Go home and expect to hear from your sister then."
She didn't move, so Marcus showed her the pistol. "Seriously. Go on home."
As she turned to leave, Marcus started up the engine and put the transmission in gear. He shook his head. His group would take care of the loose ends by Sunday, he knew. It was a shame, though. Johanna might have made a nice addition to the resistance. If he'd only had the time to work with her.