Erma Iverson says she has lots to be thankful for after spending about 20 hours stranded and helpless outside her rural Yellow Medicine County home on a late September day and night.
The 79-year-old woman's first thanks go to her dog, Crackers, for keeping at bay coyotes and raccoons through the long night of her ordeal.
Her next thanks go out to postal carrier Stan Boushek, who discovered her and called for help.
Iverson spent nine days in the hospital recovering from her ordeal, and said nurses told her: "A couple more hours and I wouldn't be here.''
Iverson, who was reached recently by phone at her daughter's home in Arizona, has playfully penned a story of her ordeal under the heading "Camping with Crackers.''
Her unexpected camping trip started on a warm afternoon Sept. 26. She lives on a country road along the Minnesota River in the vicinity of the Rock Valle Lutheran Church. There are six, widely-spaced homes along the road, none within easy eyesight or earshot of the other.
Accompanied by her companion Crackers, Iverson intended to walk about one-third of a mile across the road to visit her sister.
Bending down to pick up some branches, she fell and was unable to get back up, no matter how hard she tried. She takes medication for Parkinson's Disease. She was about 20 feet from the road and the same distance from her home.
She repeatedly pressed a medical alert button on her wrist, but it didn't seem to work, she said. She yelled and yelled, but no one heard her pleas.
The afternoon turned to dusk and soon the darkness descended.
Crackers stayed with her through it all, even when the unwelcome nighttime visitors arrived. Raccoons were the first to slink towards her. Crackers repeatedly chased them away. Some scampered up trees and watched her from branches; others disappeared into brush along a creek.
Next she heard a deer thump its hoof on the ground and snort an alert to its fawn as it nearly stumbled upon her.
That's when she heard the yipping of the first coyotes and thought "Oh no, not them.'' Crackers kept the ghost-like visitors away, chasing after the smaller ones.
Weather Service records show area temperatures fell into the mid-40's that night, mild for that time of year. Iverson was wearing jeans and a warm shirt, but by midnight she was feeling the cold. She was dehydrated and had not been able to take her medication. As she shivered in the cold, Iverson said she'd roll over and warm one side and then the other.
She slept some. The rumble of trucks hauling gravel on her road woke her at daybreak. She had fallen in a place where she could not readily be seen from the road. Unable to lift her arms and wave down help, she said she waited helplessly and listened as the occasional truck charged down the gravel road.
Sometime in the morning she either went to sleep or lost consciousness. Her next memory is being awoken by postal carrier Stan Boushek, who had arrived on schedule at 12:45 p.m. He had driven up to the driveway and was just able to spot her from the vantage point.
She had one eye completely swollen shut and the other nearly so. Her body was swollen, bruised and full of scratches from her struggles.
"I told him I'm okay if you can help me get up,'' she said. Boushek knew better, and summoned help. She was transported to the Granite Falls Hospital, where she made a full recovery.
Crackers stayed at her side through it all, but Iverson said afterwards she had reason to wonder what might have happened. Days after her recovery, she heard that someone had reported seeing a cougar within a mile of her home.