To visit the Avatan Nudist Club in East Bethel, Minnesota, about 30 miles north of Minneapolis, you drive through the front gate and check in with a greeter in the office. She may or may not be wearing clothing. You disrobe alongside your car. Then, perhaps in the company of a pair of friendly naked tour guides, you walk the road that encircles the camp. You pass the main lodge, a swimming pool, and the well-kept summer cabins of members. Nude people are playing horseshoes, fixing a roof, riding a golf cart. Most of the camp is quiet. People come and go throughout the summer, some staying for days, others for months. Life here is slow and peaceful.
At the first left bend of the road, a trio of home trailers stand side by side in a clearing. Three sisters occupy these trailers as neighbors every summer—Nanette, 68; Denise, 63 (with her husband, Al); and Juliette, 56. (They asked to be identified by their first names only, because Avatan prohibits members from sharing their last names with one another.) The sisters eat together, help work on one another’s trailers, or pass time with neighbors, such as the physician who has written a book about bird watching while naked.
The sisters are naked, and they are close. One has to do with the other. Twenty years ago, they felt distant and estranged from one another, the result of growing up in the chaos of a family wracked by drinking, cruel words, and bad memories. Back then, Nanette, Denise, and Juliette saw one another only on holidays. They say it seemed best that way.