River Voices: Naava Johnson

As a child, I appreciated the dynamic nature of Minnesota lakes in all four seasons. I took pleasure in ice skating and pretending I was a Disney princess singing in a movie. I would eagerly anticipate hearing the cracking of the ice while it melted in the spring because this meant summer was near. I have always looked forward to summers in Arden Hills and heading to Lake Josephine or Lake Johanna. As a young child, I frequently swam in Lake Josephine with my whole family and ate ice cream at Dairy Queen afterward. I slowly delighted in my favorite warm caramel and cold vanilla ice cream sundae I ordered every time. I would sit in one of the outside chairs of Dairy Queen and gaze at the lake ahead of us. I appreciated the way the lake would make my curls really defined and stretched out. Sometimes, I would shake my hair underwater and pretend to be a mermaid while swimming like the Disney Princess, Ariel. I recall spending so much time in the water my hands would wrinkle but I loved how clean my fingernails were after.

Naava standing next to a man-made waterfall

As an adult, connecting with nature has been crucial for my mental health. It has the ability to both energize and calm me.

I did not realize it at the time, but swimming in the lake was one of the first ways I began to actively meditate. I would hold my breath, relax my body, allow myself to gradually sink down to the bottom of the lake, and listen to underwater sounds.

I am grateful for nature’s ability to help me bond with others. I would often take walks in nature when first getting to know others. Playing water games with my siblings and neighborhood friends also strengthened our relationships. I remember the thrill of entering the lake in different ways. Sometimes we were up for the shock of running into the cold lake all at once and screamed as we ran in. Other times, we cautiously placed one body part in the water at a time as we adjusted. We were proud of ourselves once we finally immersed ourselves in the lake. In middle school, my friends and I were also really into Bollywood music and I would often hum music while dancing in the water or rain like the actresses I admired. In nature, I have been able to nurture my other hobbies while connecting with others through dancing, acting and photography. I wanted to become an actress and nature helped fuel my passion. I was often generating creative stories to record short films in the neighborhood, in the woods, and near water with neighborhood friends and my sister. I loved my barbies and would create romantic fairy tales in and out of the water. 

As an adult, connecting with nature has been crucial for my mental health. It has the ability to both energize and calm me. I did not realize it at the time, but swimming in the lake was one of the first ways I began to actively meditate. I would hold my breath, relax my body, allow myself to gradually sink down to the bottom of the lake, and listen to underwater sounds. Other kids' movements and voices would fade away and I could shut out the rest of the world during those moments. Nature became an escape from my problems and helped me stay present. When I was alone and feeling lonely, nature was there by my side. I relished walking barefoot and connecting myself to the earth. I would just close my eyes and stand in the cool and squishy mud. Nature found a way to ground me, promote peacefulness and gratefulness into my life. I still listen to waterfalls on my phone to calm myself down when feeling anxious. Nature also aided in developing my strong self-discipline and desire to be healthy. I would make myself run up and down hills a certain amount of time. I would climb trees with my friends. I did not need a gym to work out in, I had nature for free!

Nature has pushed me to become more of who I am. As a young adult, I would find solace in nature and reflect about life and who I was. I connected with my dog Ali as we both had a childlike wonder while walking through the nearby nature preserve while the ice melted and grass was growing again in spring. I feel most authentic, free-spirited and connected to my spirituality and higher power while in the natural world. There have been times in my life when I did not get to spend time in nature and I felt depressed and starved as if separated from a loved one. With nature, I feel more connected with my body, others, and the earth. I try to prioritize my relationship with nature now because of its significance in my mental health.

As I reflect on my healthy long-term relationship with nature, I now see how well it has nourished and nurtured me. It is time I actively start advocating and taking care of it. We need clean water protection to keep our bodies of water thriving, as well as do our own parts individually. Future generations deserve the ability to enjoy the blessings of nature and the bodies of water like I did by having access to clean non-polluted water. It is essential we take care of the earth as it is our home. We are connected to the earth and by not taking care of it, it is also a disservice to ourselves.

Couple at Mississippi River headwaters
Couple at Mississippi River headwaters

Got a Story to Tell?

Share your clean water story with the Our Mississippi Our Future campaign team!

How has your connection to water shaped your life path? Do you have a favorite Minnesota lake or river? How are you sharing your love of Minnesota waters with others? Whatever motivates you to take action for Our Mississippi, we want to hear about it!