Updated: Jul 19, 2021
This is great way to meet four of the main characters in Boundary Waters Search and Rescue: Beyond Belief. I've put them all into one blog post for convenience. Each of these prequels pick up just before the book opens and gives you the writer's backstory. Enjoy!
Hi, My Name is Elizabeth Talbot...(Liz-prequel)
First of all, please call me Liz. I suppose you're wondering why I'm writing in Joy's stead today. Well, she's asked me to share a bit about who I am and about my passions in life. She wants you to get to know me and my backstory better. That's difficult to do, you know, to summarize a life in a few short paragraphs. But I'll give it a shot.
I'll start with some demographics. I'm a middle-aged woman, at present fifty-one years of age. I live in a small town, Grand Marais, Minnesota, on the north shore of beautiful Lake Superior. I’m a textile artist, I live alone, and one of my greatest joys in life is sharing and teaching my art to those who, like me, find deep fulfillment in creating beauty with a threaded needle. Before I venture more deeply into any one of these snippets of information, you also need to know that I’m Christian, redeemed and made whole by Jesus Christ. Taken together, these are the basics of Elizabeth Talbot.
Grand Marais is a charming little town, and I’m a fairly recent transplant. I grew up in Duluth, a Minnesota harbor city at the head of Lake Superior. After high school, I attended college at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. It was here that I met the love of my life, Eric Talbot, an architect in training. Eventually, we both ended up at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, he to finish his professional degree in architecture, me to pursue a Master’s degree in human resources (this was not my first love, but that’s a story for another day). Long story short, Eric asked me to marry him and one sunny day in August we wed in Duluth.
Eric pursed a career in architecture and I pursued human resources in several corporate settings in Minneapolis and its suburbs. But I wasn’t happy. If I had a passion in my field it was labor relations, not compensation and benefits. My late father had worked in labor relations, but even three decades after he started his career, it was a field still largely closed to women, with one exception---women with law degrees. So, in my early 30’s, I went back to school, this time to pursue my Juris Doctor.
By the time I was thirty-five, I'd added more alphabet soup to my name and all thoughts of practicing employment law had vanished. I’d found a new passion---religious liberty law. While in law school, I’d been the only second year student admitted to the Religious Liberty law clinic and I never looked back. After I passed the bar exam, I established my own firm and worked with several major religious liberty organizations in the US. I was a member of the Federal Bar and had even argued before the United States Supreme Court. Eric was a partner in a mid-sized architectural firm and as we entered our forties we were busy, mostly happy, and shared a good life.
I was the one with health issues. I don’t want to focus on them here, but you need to know that neither one of us was prepared for Eric to die first. In fact, I ended up selling my law practice at forty-two because my lifestyle was slowly killing me. It was choice between work with its stress or living to see forty-five years. So, on that late September night when Eric dropped the book he was reading on the floor, I thought clumsy, sleeping, unhappy with me—anything but dead. But as it turned out, my husband had suffered the fatal coronary, not me.
I was angry and hurt that God had allowed this to happen. Why hadn’t He taken me? I was the one tired and, dare I say it, ready to go. I was broken-hearted because I didn’t even have a child to remind me of Eric. I felt like such a failure. Yet, I was the one left alone. My only solace was my artwork. I loved to embroider, to do bead work, to paint fabric, and to sew.
Already an introvert and now in pain, I withdrew into myself. I left the house to go to church, to buy groceries and reached out only to talk with my elderly mother, who was also a widow. I know my self-imposed cloister worried her, but I hated being alone in the city. My home became my familiar prison while my pile of completed textile projects grew exponentially. My friends and family worried. Eventually, I ran out of excuses and had to face what I'd become. Finally, with Mom’s encouragement, I gathered what was left of my courage and sold our—my home.
I'd decided to move north. I missed the big lake and I needed to be somewhere I could breathe—and somehow find a way to start again.
At first, I’d planned to relocate to Duluth. That’s what Mom wanted and I knew the city. Thankfully, by this point, I’d resumed talking to God. After all, it was only in God that I could make any real sense of Eric’s death, my health, or my future. I was still a relatively young woman at forty-three years old. Thanks to Eric’s life insurance and the sale of my law practice, I had some financial resources. After praying about what to do, I took a chance, shared my needlework portfolio with several galleries along the north shore and did a teaching proposal for the North House Folk School. (Look them up, they’re a great organization!)
That’s how a widowed attorney from the big city ended up an artist in Grand Marais, Minnesota. It’s been eight years since the move. I’ve grown used to living alone, even if I don't like it. I'm so grateful God gave me the chance to love and to be loved by an extraordinary man. My memories of Eric will see me through until we meet again. I've made wonderful friends through my classes, church and the art colony in town. I have my family. My health is somewhat stable. I have a great career that puts groceries on the table. I have my faith. I now consider myself a blessed woman.
What do I see in my future? For obvious reasons, I try to stay focused in the present. When I do look to the future, apart from class proposals and teaching contracts, it’s mostly in the context of what the week ahead holds. For example, I plan to teach a Hardanger class this weekend at the North House. Then on Wednesday, I’m heading for Duluth to celebrate Thanksgiving with my mom. That’s enough in the way of planning, because we never know from one breath to the next what God has in mind. I trust Him to see me through.
It’s been great meeting you all! Thank you!
All my best,
I guess. If I have to. (Dan-Prequel)
Hello, I’m not exactly certain why I ever agreed to this, since I’m more of a do-er than a writer. I’m a guy, guys don’t write about life and mushy stuff. Okay, yes, there’s that one author guy. When I say stuff like I just said, my wife, Beth, always brings him up. She loves his books. Great, so there’s one guy out there who makes a living writing believable mushy stuff and all of a sudden the rest of us are supposed to man up to mushy. Actually, I have a really good friend who talks like that author guy sometimes, but he’s not a writer. So, here I am. Joy says it’s too cold out there to write today, so she volunteered me to introduce myself.
Here I go: My name is Daniel Patrick Harrison, DH for short.
Apparently, that introduction wasn’t what Joy had in mind. I just got a look that could curdle milk. I’m more afraid of her than I am of writing, so I’ll try again. You know my name. I’m the police chief of Ely, Minnesota, and the co-founder (along with Jack Lockwood) of the Boundary Waters Search and Rescue Unit (BWSRU). Jack and I have been friends for over twenty years. We met back when he accepted a position as Donald Sloane’s business partner in a medical practice in ‘the middle of nowhere, Montana.’ (Jack’s words, not mine). I happened to be the police chief of that small town at the time.
Jack’s a great doc and our area needed his expertise, particularly since Don hoped to retire sometime before his eightieth birthday. Their practice spread out over miles of high prairie foothills and just after Jack started, I used the department’s helicopter to transport him and an injured rancher to the closest hospital. That was the beginning of our professional collaboration. Jack’s personal life had given him a passion for on-the-scene rescue. Over the next two decades we formed combined service (law enforcement-EMT/physician) programs all over the country. From our small beginning in Montana to our recent contract with the United States Forest Service, the Ely police department, and the Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital (EBCH) to create a professional rescue program dedicated to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, we continue to bring help to people who need it—quickly and safely.
While the paperwork is sometimes a headache (you try working with three different budgets and you’ll see what I mean), Jack and I feel like we’ve landed right where we belong. This project is the capstone of our careers, It’s time to start thinking about going out on top. Jack and I are both in our early fifties and still in the time of life where our conditioning permits doing our jobs. We passed a military caliber outdoor survival course that even the young bucks fail.
Like Jack, I love northern Minnesota, despite the blood-thirsty denizens that buzz around our heads for the better part of the summer (mosquitoes and black flies for the uninitiated). I especially love Ely, because Ely proper is where I met my wife, Beth. She runs the local bakery and coffee shop-Northern Lights. I think I ate breakfast and lunch (the only two meals she’s open for) there for a solid month before she really noticed me. We married last August and for the first time in my life I know what it means to have a soulmate. (Okay mushy fans, you happy?) Yes, I was married before, twice in fact. What can I say except I was young, selfish, and stupid? I don’t want to talk about it, except to say that two tours of Gulf War active duty as a chopper pilot and marriage don’t mix. Back to Beth, me, and how Jack fits into that equation. Jack is our closest friend and the three of us spend a lot of time camping, canoeing, cross-country skiing, and climbing—at least when Jack and I aren’t working.
As much fun as the three of us have together, I keep hoping Jack will meet someone. I think the loss of his first wife (years ago) has stayed with him. I don’t want to say he’s heartbroken, because in most ways he’s moved on with life. He dates on occasion, even got pretty serious with someone back when we were working together in Denver. But he’s still alone. And before you ask, no I won’t set him up—not again. The last time I did that it was a disaster. Okay, maybe disaster’s an overstatement, but Jack let me know my efforts on his behalf were not welcome. The thing is, we’re once again heading into the holiday season. Thanksgiving is next week, then comes Christmas. That's no time to be alone, especially with my friend's history. Jack is our chosen family and he’s very welcome in our home, but yet another year is ending and despite what he says, I’m convinced he’s given up. In fact, I’m certain he expects to spend the rest of his life alone. I don’t want that for him. It was different when I was unmarried. I didn’t fully realize how bleak the years ahead looked until I married Beth. Now? Well, it’s not up to me. Let’s just say I’m hoping that the universe is kind to my friend. He’s a great guy.
I guess that’s all. Joy is nodding at me with approval in her eyes. This wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, even though writing’s not my thing. I wish you and yours a happy holiday season. Right now, I have my work cut out for me, because the National Weather Service is predicting a major blizzard event staring sometime on Sunday night/Monday morning. That means I need to get both the department and the rescue service ready for action.
I'm Really Hesitant About Posting My Life All Over Social Media...(Jack Prequel)
...especially in my BL/BG days---that's before Liz/before God days, but I wanted to keep my word to Joy. (I'm already late to the party, Liz and Dan have completed and posted their prequels and Beth is working on hers, has been for a month—I can't believe Harrison beat me to the punch, especially given how he belly-ached about doing this) I understand Joy's first book telling my/our story, in the guise of fiction, is due out in a couple months and she's tasked me with writing my backstory—who and where I was just before Boundary Waters Search and Rescue: Beyond Belief begins. I'll do my best to reproduce what I remember of the man I was on that cold November weekend, right before Thanksgiving.
"You know it sounds like we’re in for a century storm starting Sunday evening, I doubt the BWSR (Boundary Waters Search and Rescue) teams will get any call outs after the snow starts. We just need to make certain everyone's out of the wilderness area before things get bad. I know you're on call the beginning of next week, but why don't you let me contact you on Monday morning and let you know if you need to make the trip into town."
I should have been pleased by my business partner's words, because they carried the possibility of an unexpected day off, but all I felt was resentment. Sometimes being the Chief of Police in Ely went to Dan Harrison's head and I wasn't in the mood. He and I were and are business partners—he was NOT my boss and he didn't get to tell me when to work and when to stay home. Still, I didn't say anything. The weather forecasts in northern Minnesota were known to change hourly on blustery weekends. Right now, it was Saturday afternoon, the sun was shining, the sky was the most intense shade of blue I'd seen yet this autumn, and the temperature was in the mid-forties. Not bad for the weekend before Thanksgiving.
As for staying home if a storm blew up, there was no way that was going to happen. I wasn't scheduled at the hospital because of my 'on-call' status with the BWSRU and I needed to stay busy at this time of year, especially at this time of year. I needed to help people endangered by the weather. I needed to treat injuries. I needed to focus on others. Why? Because being home alone meant that unwelcome, painful memories kept barging into my consciousness. My wife of five years, Ellie, had died in an early-winter car wreck—a very long time ago. Yet at this time of year, when I thought of her, I was right back in the midst of that awful night. I could still feel the same tearing pain that I'd felt when I opened our front door and found a uniformed officer standing in front of me, his hands clasped formally behind his back and a sad look in his eyes. I was off work that night while Ellie was at Bible study for the evening. The truth was, I’d hoped she’d skip her lesson in favor of spending the time with me. A free evening was a bit of a rarity for me, given my crazy work hours. Still, I hadn't said anything when she left because I knew her faith was important to her, and we had our whole life to be together.
If I’d been on duty in the ER that night, I would have been the physician-in-charge when they'd brought her in—DOA. I guess that was a small mercy, at least I had some time to absorb what officer sad-eyes had told me before I got to the hospital. By that time all I could do was sit by Ellie’s body and try to say goodbye. Her still form didn't look much like my wife. It was kind of twisted and bent, and the fire had burned off much of her clothing. Most noticeably, the spark of animation in her pretty eyes was gone.
They told me that she’d lived for a few minutes after being thrown from the car. Then she died in the middle of a busy crosstown freeway, alone, with no one around to ease her passing. Everyone at the scene was too busy working on the lives that they could save. Briefly I wondered what she was seeing right now, if indeed there was really the kind of afterlife she'd believed in. Mostly, though, what consumed me was grief and anger at my own impotence. There was nothing I could do for my Ells. For all my medical training and education, I'd failed the one I loved most in the world, the one who’d taught me the meaning of joy and belonging.
Time and work had dulled the pain, but being back in Minnesota at that season of the year, brought back memories I’d worked twenty-one long years to bury. I thought being on the other end of the state from Minneapolis would protect me. I was wrong.
I don’t know why I was dwelling on something that happened more than two decades before that afternoon in November. I'd been in relationships since Ellie died, although with a single exception, they were pretty casual. I kept telling myself that it was better this way. After all, an emergency medicine physician with a specialty in trauma surgery didn't make good boyfriend/husband material. Most of my past relationships had driven home that point with a hammer. Perhaps I was just living in the past because the future seemed pretty bleak from a personal standpoint. I'd just turned fifty the month before, and, apart from a great career, one that involved not only medicine but rescue work in one of the largest wilderness areas on the continent, life was…
No! I’m not going to go there. I want to communicate my perspective honestly from the standpoint of the man that I was, not the man I am. I wasn't lonely and I wouldn’t have described myself as unhappy. At that time, Dan and I had been friends for many years, ever since I'd accepted a position as a physician in rural Montana. It had gotten to the point where I needed to leave Minneapolis after the accident, and I needed to decide whether the practice of medicine was still for me. After arriving in the middle of nowhere, Montana, it took time but I found my purpose again. I also met Harrison, who was the Chief of Police of that tiny dot on the map. Somehow, we’ve managed to work together for most of the years since and to remain great friends for all of them. He’s everything I’m not. He’s an extrovert, great with people, and has the loudest laugh you’ll ever hear. He’s a practical joker (I’ve become one in self-defense), a bit crazy, and the summer before that Thanksgiving when Joy’s story begins, he'd married a kind, lovely woman who saw beyond his comedy and cynicism to a man with a very big heart. His wife’s name is Beth and she owns the best bakery/café in northern Minnesota. She also makes a great cup of coffee. The three of us had a lot of fun together, canoeing, climbing and game nights, Dan even said…
I’m sorry. Joy cautioned me about this tendency I have to avoid talking about myself by talking about others. Especially the myself that existed back then. I liked talking about the others that brought meaning into my life in those days. The man I was back then wouldn’t have wanted to discuss being alone or how tired he was of empty-feeling dates. He wouldn’t have talked about his family, especially not about his father, but he would have talked about work or his few friends. He might even have been pleased to talk about the house he’d built outside of Ely when he moved back to Minnesota.
Great, now I’m speaking of myself in the third person. I'd built my home just outside of Ely, or rather I had it built thanks to a friend who happened to be an architect and a superb contractor who has since retired, and I did like talking about it, When I moved to northern Minnesota. I did a lot of research on heating systems, power alternatives, siding and roofing. It gave my off hours purpose and filled the time—because a busy life suggests one filled with purpose. The builders finished my place the spring before Joy's story opens. That weekend just before Thanksgiving would be my first winter storm sheltered inside its walls. The house sits on over twenty acres and the back of my lot abuts the BWCAW (that’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for the uninitiated) The house and grounds are everything I wanted, except maybe—never mind. I had plenty of room both inside and outside, but the house, as it was then, wasn't too big for one person, at least not most of the time. The way I spent my off hours was either exercising or reading, and the house and property were perfect for both of those activities.
By Sunday evening of that weekend before Thanksgiving, it was raining—hard! The weather folks still hadn’t decided how much snow we were going to get or how cold it was going to be if the wind picked up. So, I’d set my alarm for the next morning a bit early because I’d already determined that no matter what anyone (insert Harrison's name here) said, I was going into the BWSRU’s offices in town tomorrow as planned. I was going to help Dan through whatever was heading our way whether he liked it or not.
The truth of the matter was, I was nowhere near prepared for the miracle that the next twenty-four hours would bring. I did go out on a rescue the next morning. It just wasn’t what I expected.
Hi. My name is Beth Erickson Harrison---Dan Harrison's Wife....
I feel like I need to formally introduce myself, even if you know Jack, Liz, and Dan. I’m not as much a part of Jack’s story as the others who’ve participated in writing these prequels. That’s one of the reasons my entry is so late. I’ve tried to convince Joy that anything I could say would be either repetitive or superfluous, but she insists that my part in this story is both important and relevant.
Let’s start with how I met Jack. I met him and Dan not long after the two of them moved to Ely, Minnesota, to start a search and rescue team dedicated to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. If they’d been women, I would have immediately labeled them as BFFs (best friends forever), and that would be close to the mark, gender bias notwithstanding. They’d been friends for almost two decades at the time we met, and both were committed to on-scene treatment and rescue of accident victims. Being a life-long resident of Ely, I was happy that the US Forest Service had finally decided to do something about forming a specialized group to help with rescues and injuries to campers and canoeists. I love the outdoors, but unexpected injuries can turn a great vacation into a life and death struggle.
I’d returned to Ely after college and for years I was an accountant for the city. I’d always expected to meet someone, get married, and have kids. Somehow that didn’t happen. I was engaged once, in my late twenties, to a fine man---an Army Ranger named John Cross. He deployed to the middle east in the aftermath of Desert Storm. He was a month away from returning stateside and we were a month and a half away from our wedding when he stepped on a camouflaged IED. After that, it just seemed easier to face life on my own. I have a lot of friends and family here in my hometown, so I never had to be alone if I wanted company.
At the time when Boundary Waters Search and Rescue: Beyond Belief opens, I was the owner of a bakery and coffee shop in downtown Ely. The Northern Lights Café was my version of a mid-life crisis. I love to bake and make sweet treats. I am also a typical Norwegian in my enjoyment of coffee, so it just seemed like the thing to do. Because I’m not a huge fan of cooking, at least commercially, I was blessed to hire Amos Aamehee, a Native American chef with a flair for extraordinary takes on traditional comfort food.
So, there I was, a business owner, happily single in my mid-forties, when these two guys walked into my restaurant and sat down at one of the few empty tables. I didn’t recognize them, so I figured they were probably tourists—although January isn't a prime time for vacation in the northern reaches of Minnesota. They were both athletic and good looking and when I delivered menus and water to their table, I noticed that neither of them wore a wedding band. What were the chances of that? I asked what I could get them and the blue-eyed one said coffee, the expression on his face telling me that he not only wanted coffee but needed it. I turned to the other guy, who was kinda staring at me with these gorgeous brown eyes and asked what I could get him. He turned his thousand-watt smile on me and said “coffee and your phone number so I can ask you out on Saturday night.”
That was the beginning. Dan fell hard for me and I did my best to discourage him at first, he must have eaten breakfast and lunch at my place every day for a month before he got my phone number. After that, I began to fall hard for him. It didn’t matter that he was a two-time loser in the marriage lottery or that he didn’t seem to have a serious bone in his body. I knew that there was more to him. After all, he was the town’s Chief of Police. I fell in love with Dan and got to know Jack very well over the course of the next eighteen months. Dan and I married in August about a year and a half after we met. By that time, the three of us had become very close, because we all enjoyed canoeing, climbing, and hiking, followed by dessert and coffee.
For a while after Dan and I married I was worried that Jack might feel like a third wheel, but that seldom happened. Instead, we became a family. I kept hoping that maybe Jack would find someone, just to ease his loneliness, but Dan believed Jack had given up on love. He told me about Jack losing his wife when very young and about his disastrous relationship with another physician when he and Dan had lived and worked in Colorado. She’d both broken Jack’s heart and left him unwilling to try again.
I was glad that Dan and I were able to give Jack a semblance of family life. Jack is a dear friend, and he was alone as we headed into that Thanksgiving season when Joy’s story begins. I was determined that this would be the holiday season that Jack would find the joy and peace the greeting cards keep touting. Dan said not to get my hopes up. Neither of us ever imagined how God would step in that November and change Jack’s heart and life in such a short period of time. And neither of us ever imagined how God would use that change in Jack’s life to bring Dan and me home to our eternal family.
I guess that’s all for now. I’ve given you the basics of how I play into two remarkable love stories. The first is my own personal love story with Dan and the second is Jack’s and Liz’s tale to tell. I pray that you will be blessed when you read Joy’s fictional take on a true miracle of grace.
All my best,