MY FRIENDS CAN READ IT FOR FREE. (#2 from The Harvest of Reason). John Pitts, a second year doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, walked up the steps of Linden Hall bright and early on Monday morning. When he opened the door to the main office, he caused a bit of a stir. Barb sighed, Jennie salivated READ MORE…

Chapter 1

To merit the madness of love, man must abound in sanity… 

The Seven Valleys

John Pitts, a second year doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, walked up the steps of Linden Hall bright and early on Monday morning. When he opened the door to the main office, he caused a bit of a stir. Barb sighed, Jennie salivated, and Alma offered a friendly, businesslike greeting.

“Hi, John, you’re back! We thought you’d be gone the whole semester.” Her chirpy voice matched her plump figure.

“No way, Alma,” John flashed a smile. “I couldn’t afford to stay away that long. I have my prelims this term.”

After being gone all summer in Puerto Rico harvesting experimental lines[i], the grand stairway at the entrance of the Plant Breeding[ii] Department[iii] and the dark wood of the archways had seemed oppressive to John, in stark contrast to the whitewashed simplicity back at the Isabela Experiment Station.

“Oh, well. Let me get your mail then,” Alma said. “It’s been piling up.”

She walked off into the back room to retrieve it. John looked up to see a smiling Jennie at the file cabinets. The top drawer slid closed and she leaned her body up against it, offering him a full frontal view. Jennie was much younger than Alma.

“Boy, do you have a nice tan, John!” she said. “Bet you had a good time, knowing you.”

John shrugged off the veiled allusion to his “party animal” reputation. “Nah, Jennie, I had to work twenty-four seven to get the harvest in and get back here in time for classes.” He felt dead tired. The flight had gotten into O’Hare at ten last night, and then he’d had a three-hour bus ride to Madison.

“You’re late. Fall semester started two weeks ago.”

“I know.”

“Didn’t you have enough workers?” she asked.

“A couple. It wasn’t enough.”

“Yeah. Dr. Pinkerton’s an old tightwad, isn’t he? Tries to squeeze blood out of a turnip.” Since she was the departmental bookkeeper, Jennie was aware of his professor’s accounts.

Alma came back and handed him a box. “There! Have fun sorting through that!”

He looked at the box filled with junk mail and lab equipment catalogs and groaned. “Well, I better get busy. Goodbye ladies.” His smile flashed indiscriminately.

Alma went back to her typing, but Jennie looked at his retreating form. The backpack hung off broad shoulders and the blue jeans fit his long legs perfectly.

Barb threw her a barely audible whisper, “Go on, I dare you!”

Jennie made as if she were going to the mailboxes near the door and said, “Hey John…”

He looked back. “Yeah?”

“Call me sometime.” Her eyes held a warm promise.

As he took the wide stairway two steps at a time John thought about it, but he wasn’t sure he would take her up on her offer. Maybe, if it didn’t get complicated. He couldn’t afford to goof off much this semester.

He walked into the grad-student office on the second floor and was greeted by Pete Shalley’s high-pitched voice. “John! There you are, you lucky dog!!”

“Hey, guys, how’s it going around here?” His greeting took in Dave Rankin at the next desk. The office was the same: books and papers piled on top of and under every desk; the two bookshelves covered with dusty printouts, manuscripts, lab books and what-not; somebody’s dirty boots in one corner, boxes of seed samples stacked on the floor; notes taped to every available space, but not a picture, a plant anywhere. It was a thoroughly male bastion.

Pete was all curiosity. “How was Puerto Rico? How were the beaches? Did you catch some rays? What about the bikini babes, huh?”

John was reminded of a panting puppy dog. He put the box of mail down on the desk and his backpack on the chair. He looked around for the garbage can.

Pete turned to Dave, “Hey, knowing John, he caught more than a few of those Puerto Rican beauties. And he didn’t just look, either. How about it John, did you score big-time? Spill the beans, man!”

“No. I was too busy harvesting your plants, remember?” He’d be damned if he’d share any details of the few times he had taken time off. Girls in Puerto Rico weren’t all living the vida loca, despite the popular song.

“Yeah, I owe you one, man,” Pete said. Then he smiled as if he’d figured out a way to repay John. “Hey! Maybe you can get some action around here. Dr. Gates has this new graduate student.”

“Oh?” John dumped the mail out on his desk. “What’s she like?” he asked. It didn’t take much to turn Pete into a babbling idiot.

“She’s a goddess! A ripe papaya ready for the  picking.” He looked over his shoulder. “Right, Dave?”

Dave talked slower, but in the same vein as Pete. “Yeah. Talk about fruit. The girl’s definitely got some.” His lazy voice droned on, “Hey! Why don’t you go over and meet her, John?”

“Yeah, yeah!” Pete’s voice always did raise another pitch when he was excited.

John didn’t care much for their metaphors. The guys were crude and their thinking on the subject of women lacked elegance. It was amazing how much those two had in common, one being from rural Georgia, the other from Cicero. But his curiosity was mildly peaked.

“So, if she’s so gorgeous, how is it that you’re offering her to me?” He methodically discarded pieces of junk mail into the garbage after a cursory examination.

“Oh, she’s, well, she’s out of our league, you could say,” Pete explained, glancing sideways at Dave.

“Yeah, you could say that,” Dave agreed.

John’s eyebrows went up. “You too, Dave? Didn’t you take a crack? You’re only half as ugly as Pete here.”

“Well excu-u-use me! We can’t all have your sex appeal.” Dave got loud, then got sincere. “Truth is, she’s a little scary. But why don’t you take a stab, pretty boy?”       John shrugged. “Fine, I’ll take a look.” He dumped the last of the junk mail into the gray metal basket. “I’ve got to go over and give Dan Gates his seed I brought back, anyway.”

As he headed across the hall he thought he sniffed a rat. They were a little too anxious for him to meet this paragon. Either something was seriously wrong with this woman, or she was unbearably ugly.


After John closed the door, Pete jumped up from his swivel chair. “Ha! Won’t that be a match!”

Dave sneered. “This’ll be one chick that won’t come when old John Pitts whistles.”

“Hey, don’t be too sure,” Pete countered, “They’re pretty hot to trot.”

“Nah, they stick to their own kind. Plus, you can get the tar beat out of you if you mess with them. Haven’t you seen the big guys walking around campus?”

“Yeah, I’ve seen them. You know, you can only get so many of them on the football team. Or the basketball team. What else do you think they’re here for?”

“Well, Plant Breeding, for one,” Dave answered, his thumb motioning across the hall where the goddess lived.

Pete frowned. “How do you suppose she got here?”

“Had to be that affirmative action shit,” Dave answered.

Pete settled back down at his desk and picked up a horseracing pennant hanging off of it. “You know. We got a saying back home.”

“Yeah?” Dave leaned back in his chair and crossed his hands behind his head. “What?”

“Just ‘cause a filly got let out of the gate doesn’t mean she’ll make it to the finish line.”


[i] Experimental lines – genetic strains of any plant scientists are working to improve.

[ii] Plant breeding – the process by which plants are improved using crosses, propagation or more modern methods.

[iii] Plant Breeding Department – a fictitious department.




Hey! I’m really interested in your comments. So talk to me.

DISCUSSION QUESTION 2    Do guys like Pete really exist?

About rheaharmsen

Rhea Harmsen is a scientist, novelist and author of Language of the Spirit, a volume of selected poems. She has also released three novels, The Harvest of Reason, Intermarry, and God Created Women. Harmsen was born in a family with a black father and a white mother at a time when interracial marriage was still illegal in some states. Her parents gave her a vision of world citizenship that informs her writing and her lifestyle and has caused her to reject traditional views of race and gender. Harmsen's article "Science in the Hands of Women: Present Barriers, Future Promise" appeared in World Order in 1998 and provides the foundation for the story line for her novel The Harvest of Reason. She co-published the Monroeville Race Unity Forum Bulletin and authored many poems on racial topics, crystallizing the "conversation on race" in the novel Intermarry. Her work with domestic violence survivors in Puerto Rico inspired the novel God Created Women. Harmsen holds a doctorate in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She currently resides in Puerto Rico. Upcomming projects are described in her web page at
This entry was posted in agriculture, biracial, chastity, college students, educators, equality, excerpt from THE HARVEST OF REASON, female professors, feminism, genetic engineering, genetics, global discussion, graduate school, interracial marriage, John Pitts, Maddie Hawkins, national discussion, plant breeding, race, race on campus, rights of women, University of Wisconsin-Madison, women in science and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to MY FRIENDS CAN READ IT FOR FREE. (#2 from The Harvest of Reason). John Pitts, a second year doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, walked up the steps of Linden Hall bright and early on Monday morning. When he opened the door to the main office, he caused a bit of a stir. Barb sighed, Jennie salivated READ MORE…

  1. pragwater says:

    Great idea Rhea, sharing your book like this It’s like a virtual book club.

  2. Giovani Cate says:

    Enjoyed every bit of your blog.Really thank you! Want more.

  3. Rhea Harmsen says:

    Thanks. Read on. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s