For once, a happy ending

by Tom Coombe

Lost in the woods for nearly two days, 83-year-old Thor Nordwall feared the worst.<BR><BR>“I said ‘God, I didn’t think I was going to go this way,” Nordwall recalled early last week.<BR><BR>Just a few miles away, in a cabin on the North Arm of Burntside Lake that she shared with her husband, Audry Nordwall had similar fears.<BR><BR>“I knew he was strong, but you can’t go on forever out there,” Audry said.<BR><BR>A search and rescue team about 100 people strong - from authorities to community volunteers - were on the lookout Monday morning for Thor who left his cabin Saturday afternoon in search of berries but never returned.<BR><BR>The search for Thor had gone on Saturday night, all of Sunday and again on Monday, and optimism was starting to wear thin.<BR><BR>But against the odds, this story would have a happy ending.<BR><BR>Thor emerged on a trail near his cabin shortly before 11 a.m. Monday, walking right up to Brian Arnold, a Morse-Fall Lake First Responder and part of the vast search party.<BR><BR>His legs were scratched and body chilled - temperatures were below normal and it had rained for much of the time that Thor was in the woods - and he had little in the way of nourishment during his journey into the woods.<BR><BR>And though he was taken by ambulance to Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital, Thor would soon be released and he spent much of the next few days reuniting with family members - many of whom came from out of town to take part in the search - and relaying his story to print, radio and television journalists.<BR><BR>Thor, who lives in the Twin Cities suburb of Vadnais Heights but has had his Burntside cabin for over 30 years, was keenly aware that his story could have ended in tragedy.<BR><BR>“At this point, after being out, it’s starting to hit me pretty strong that it could have happened differently,” Thor said Tuesday.<BR><BR>Audry Nordwall alerted authorities late Saturday that her husband had been missing.<BR><BR>Earlier in the day, Audry had gone blueberry picking while Thor went off in another direction, certain that he would find another spot with a good selection of berries.<BR><BR>Wearing a light windbreaker and shorts, and with weather conditions still pleasant, Thor left the cabin at approximately 1:30 p.m.<BR><BR>“What I want to get across is this is a learning experience for those of us that think they know the woods,” Thor said. “That’s my message: don’t take anything for granted.”<BR><BR>Thor had groomed miles of ski trails on the North Arm and was familiar with the territory around his cabin, but he became disoriented during his search for berries and realized late in the afternoon that he was lost.<BR><BR>With clouds covering the sun and darkness soon to set in, Thor opted to stay where he was for the evening and try to get back out Sunday morning. He covered his uncovered legs with leggings that he made from birch bark. He sucked on wet pine needles to quench his thirst.<BR><BR>“I can honestly say that I was not hungry,” Thor said.<BR><BR>Meanwhile, Audry was aware that something was awry and telephoned authorities to initiate the search.<BR><BR>A voice search Saturday evening was unsuccessful, and Thor did not hear those who were looking and calling for him.<BR><BR>Plans for a helicopter search on Sunday were scrapped because of the low clouds.<BR><BR>Thor’s children were called and family members including nieces and nephews came to Ely and joined the search.<BR><BR>The St. Louis County Sheriff’s Department, Rescue Squad and local First Responders and fire departments were also joined by many community members, who volunteered their services.<BR><BR>Thor had little luck on Sunday. Clouds hid the sun that would help send him in the proper direction. He stumbled upon a swampy area and wound up spending the night at the base of a tree, hoping and praying the clouds would break Monday morning.<BR><BR>And for an instant, Thor’s prayers were answered. He saw a break Monday morning.<BR><BR>“It broke just enough so I could see where it was I came from,” Thor said.<BR><BR>He headed toward the south, meeting up with the Ole Lake Tail, which he recognized.<BR><BR>Thor had walked more than two miles and soon was near his cabin.<BR><BR>‘You know people are going to look for you,” Thor said. “Now that I’m out, I didn’t realize the magnitude. I turned the corner and I could hear voices and there was a sheriff, and then out of the bushes my whole family was all around.”<BR><BR>Audry was at the home of a neighbor, taking a shower, when friend Becky Manlove took the call that Thor was alive, and well.<BR><BR>“Becky was screaming at me that ‘he’s OK and found,” Audry recalled. “I got on the phone and his son said he was in good spirits.”<BR><BR>Audry and Thor were reunited at Camp Du Nord, where authorities had set up a rescue headquarters. <BR><BR>Thor, his arms raised to acknowledge those who searched and volunteered, was driven to the headquarters on a four-wheeler, much to the delight of all who were there.<BR><BR>A day after he was found, Thor was still a little overwhelmed by the experience, and very grateful to the virtual army who went in search for him.<BR><BR>“The outpouring of all of the people in town and the people who came out in ugly weather, they have to be thanked over and over again,” Thor said.<BR><BR>The experience may have shaken him, but it probably won’t shake Thor’s love of the woods or his desire to traverse the area near his cabin.<BR><BR>But next time, family members joked, he may have to take a radio device, or a long rope, or perhaps a whistle.<BR><BR>Pam Roberts contributed to this report<BR><BR>