Excerpt from Chapter 1 of novel, in progress

The chicken free-ranging at her feet, scratching in the garden soil on a hunt for insects and other delights, broke Nicole from her favorite kind of meditation. She knew she should be getting back to her laptop and the air conditioned home office, where her network connection was steadily blinking its green light, ready and beckoning her to get back to it. But the sunshine reddening her bare shoulders, the breeze on her back, and the earthy, viney aroma of fresh tomato leaves in her French potager-style raised bed vegetable garden had waylaid her longer than she’d intended. She skillfully pruned the plants so as to direct more energy to their roots and the small green spheres that held the promise of summer salads and grilled sandwiches. “Pow-tag-jai.” She laughed at herself as she let the word roll off her tongue over and over in a faux-French accent. A carpenter bee that had been buzzing nearby in lazy circles seemed to stop and eye her curiously, but at her silence moved on to other more interesting pursuits.

It was the first real stretch of sticky hot weather in Southwest Michigan, and plants that were no taller than her knees last week seemed to have doubled in size. Green peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, and tomatoes were in full foliage and beginning to flower and set fruit. The peas and broccoli were ready to be picked, and the bed where she had harvested radishes and lettuce last week was ready to be reseeded. This was her happy place. Her hands in the soil, her breath slow and steady and her mind able to see how each plant would grow and produce something she could sink her teeth into and enjoy later. She loved losing track of time here, among the plants that she provided for, in the form of water and care, until they provided for her with fresh vegetables. She wished it was later now as thoughts of “this minute” started to creep in.

Like how she’d promised Valerie she’d have a full month’s worth of social media posts ready by tomorrow, and then with a tighter grip on her pruners, the notion that it would easily take her another four or five hours to finish the job and schedule the posts. The allure of being outside tending to her favorite hobbies consistently overpowered her “real job” obligations to coordinate the marketing activities for her best friend’s clothing boutique in Chicago. “I’ll take carrots over clothes any day of the week,” she muttered to herself and moved on to the next plant.

Foxglove Farm was what Nicole Keller called her “family-built slice of heaven,” situated not far from Lake Michigan in the town of Three Oaks, Michigan. The name was inspired by the prairie behind the barn that burst with whit flower filled spikes of Penstemon digitalis each Spring. She knew every inch of these 16 acres, from the areas designated for growing vegetables and herbs, to her mini vineyard, the apple orchard, the chicken coop and the flock’s free range space, and the areas she let naturalize to support beneficial insects and wildlife. The land and the 1920’s farmhouse that sat on it had belonged to her parents, who’d paid it off long before they passed away when Nicole was in her 30’s. Over the years, Nicole successfully converted the land that was once used to grow a monocrop of corn, to a sustainable organic paradise rich in its diversity of animals (resident and visiting) and plants.

Finishing the row, she straightened her back with a grimace as a muscle protested being in one position for too long and slowly got to her feet. She knew better than to push her body too hard, even though she seemed to do it anyway, each and every time. And these days, it seemed to be pushing her right back. Nicole paused under her patio set umbrella to quench the parched feeling only her favorite raspberry iced tea could quench, and wiped her face with the bottom of her T-shirt. A persistent pecking noise in the dirt nearby got her attention and she smiled as she looked in its direction. The vegetable garden was loving this weather, but her chickens did not. Her flock was made up of a variety of cold-hardy breeds (Michigan winters can be downright brutal) and today’s high temperatures were wearing on them. Six of the flock of eleven hens dust bathed and relaxed in the shade of the house, next to the foundation. Four just sat in the coop’s run, seemingly unwilling to move far from their waterer. And Fern the Blue Andalusian who was more a soft grey than blue and Nicole’s favorite, hopped onto the arm of one of the patio chairs, trying to fully gain Nicole’s attention.