Menahga woman gets lost in bog while berry picking
MENAHGA -- Prayer, a handful of blueberries and the comfort of a rope handle on her picking bucket were Joyce Lake's only sustenance during a day lost in a bog this summer.
"I'd say 'God, you promised me you wouldn't give me anything more than I can handle,'" Lake recalled. "I felt no peace and I thought 'well, maybe this is where I'm supposed to end my life.' I really thought I might not make it out of there."
It was a beautiful morning July 30 when Lake entered the woods looking for blueberries that have become elusive in recent years. Her husband knows she loves to pick berries and pointed out a patch on their rural Menahga property. But they were little and not worth picking, she said. So he dropped her off in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources woods where she hoped for a more successful hunt.
It was 11 a.m. when she entered the woods and by noon Lake was hopelessly lost, she said.
There were very few berries and lots of mosquitoes. Instead of returning on the path she took into the woods, Lake went to a neighboring field and thought she could walk parallel to the path in the woods. She didn't reach the road, though, and the trail ended. Then she saw a field with what looked like a clearing beyond. Lake thought if she just crossed that field she would get to the road.
"I walked into it and I went right down to my waist," Lake said. "It was a bog."
She panicked. Lake has no idea how she was able to get out of there, she said. Then she went into the woods and that wasn't much better. It was nothing but a bog, too, filled with shrubs and bushes. The few big trees were the only places with solid ground, Lake said. She made her way through the woods stepping on shrubs and pulling on tree branches to get through the muck. She had to stop and catch her breath when she was on solid ground.
"I was lifting my legs up high," she said. "I would sink to my knees every time."
She had no idea which way was north or south. Lake isn't a stranger to being lost in the woods, she said. She has a terrible sense of direction. But she's never been lost like she was that Thursday.
Each time she would stop for a breath she would pray, she said. Her husband, Archie, was gone until 3 p.m. and she knew no one would miss her before then.
"First of all I just prayed 'You have to help me,'" Lake said.
The she started praying for her husband.
"I thought 'he is going to be devastated because he is the one who told me about these blueberries,'" she said.
One of Lake's only sources of comfort was holding on to the rope handle her husband attached to an ice cream bucket. She decided at one point to leave the bucket behind, because it was getting in her way.
"As soon as I left it ... I missed that bucket and thought I should not have left it," Lake said. Much to her surprise she came upon the bucket again.
"So I knew then that I was going around in circles," she said.
Lake was tired and exhausted and covered with mosquito bites. Her legs were bruised and scratched where brush came through the bottom of her pants. Bursts of rain and thunder that began around 3 p.m. added to Lake's misery.
She could hear sirens and people yelling and knew people were searching for her, but she didn't think they would look for her in the bog, she said.
Lake had a handful of blueberries and at 6 p.m. she decided to eat them one by one. She knew it might be her last meal for the day. The sun finally came out again so she tried to dry off and get some heat.
"I figured I might spend the night there," Lake said. "I was soaking wet from the rain, wet from falling in the bog a hundred times."
Lake was standing on solid ground by a tree with the sun right over her when she started to pray really hard.
"That's when I got some kind of peace," she said. "I thought, well, maybe I can make it out."
So she tried once more and within five minutes her hours of sloshing in the bog were over when she walked out onto a field. She still didn't know where she was, but she knew she was going to be OK. It was 6:30 p.m.
"I knew they would send someone to look for me there," she said.
She walked down 159th Avenue and a white car came driving up. A sheriff's deputy was inside.
"And then he just asked 'Are you Joyce?' and I said 'yeah,'" Lake said. "And he said 'well there's an awful lot of people looking for you.'"
More than 60 people including Sebeka and Menahga first responders and fire departments, the sheriff's posse and DNR officials were looking, Sheriff Mike Carr said. He's been on quite a few searches in his career and is very happy when people are found. The Lakes are nice people, he said, and she is a strong lady.
Archie knew she was gone when he saw her clippers still sitting where she'd left them, Lake said. There were no blueberries on the counter and the car was in the garage. He called their son-in-law and neighbor. Then they called 911, she said.
She cried when she came upon the searchers, she said. She felt so bad that all those people and horses had been out looking.
They took her blood pressure and encouraged her to get checked out at the hospital.
"All I wanted to do was go home," she said.
Her shoes were covered in mud and her clothes smelled like swamp.
Lake was the "best berry picker you ever found" when she was growing up on the Iron Range, she said. But she doesn't plan on ever picking berries again.
She wants to share her story to let other people know how dangerous bogs can be, she said. She's lived here 35 years and didn't know there were bogs back there.
Lake learned respect for bogs during her experience, she said. She regrets not following the path she took when she first entered the woods and she will always have her cell phone with her. She wouldn't go through the experience again, but what you survive makes you stronger, she said.
"I appreciate life a lot more," she said. "I appreciate my husband a lot more. And I believe in the power of prayer."