MY FRIENDS CAN READ IT FOR FREE. (Excerpt #6 from The Harvest of Reason). Maddie Hawkins entered Edgar Simms’ office on Monday morning and waited for Dr. Gates’ technician to look up from his desk. He was putting labels on packets of seed. He didn’t look up… READ MORE

(if you’re here for the first time look at excerpts 1-5 in earlier posts)

Chapter 2

In the ocean he findeth a drop, in a drop he beholdeth the secrets of the sea.

The Seven Valleys


Maddie Hawkins entered Edgar Simms’ office on Monday morning and waited for Dr. Gates’ technician to look up from his desk. He was putting labels on packets of seed. He didn’t look up, so she went ahead. “Edgar, I have an important appointment next Tuesday. I won’t be able to go to Hancock Experiment Station with the crew.”

He issued a thin smile. “Well, that’s just great, isn’t it?”

“I’m really sorry,” she began, “but I’m having a hell of a time with this class and Dr. Carothers has agreed to meet with me on Tuesday. I need to be here.”

He was now looking at the wall and tapping his fingers on the desk. “You know, I have enough problems getting the project work done, I don’t need to take on graduate student’s work on top of it.”

“Oh! No–no. I wasn’t asking you to!” She was dismayed by his conclusion. “I was just wondering if I could go up on another day.”

“I can’t spare the van. You’ll have to get a ride with someone else,” he said.

“Any ideas who might be going up?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” he shrugged, “Try Dr. Pinkerton’s crew across the hall.”

Maddie walked away a little miffed. What had he been trying to imply, anyway? That she didn’t pull her weight? She was beginning to think maybe Edgar had a chip on his shoulder. At the last group meeting he’d made a comment about having more comp-time hours built up than he would ever be able to use. And then there was his snide remark about graduate students who didn’t take their greenhouse watering duties seriously. Why did he always have to generalize like that about graduate students? If he had a problem with an individual why didn’t he just take it up with that person, instead of tarring everyone with the same brush?

The result of his remark was that Dr. Gates had given a mini-lecture on the importance of greenhouse watering duty. They’d all had to sit there feeling like naughty boys and girls, with no one really knowing who had screwed up, or when. At one point she glanced at Edgar. Arms crossed, chin tucked into his chest, he seemed to be enjoying it. He had manipulated them all like pieces on a chessboard. Maybe that was his way of lashing out for feeling so overworked. Seriously passive aggressive, she thought.


When John Pitts walked into the office at six forty-five on Thursday morning he found a note from Dr. Pinkerton on his desk saying that they should give Maddie Hawkins a ride to Hancock Experiment Station.

“Oh boy.” He ran his fingers through his hair and grimaced. He had mixed feelings about the prospect of spending a day with the woman, and he was not looking forward to controlling Pete and Dave, so as to shield her from any unpleasant vibes.

After picking up his field book he walked down the stairs. Outside the building, he found the Pinkerton crew leaning against the sides of the van in the parking lot and an aloof Maddie sitting cross-legged on the curb. He unlocked the van and the guys all hopped in, leaving the seat next to the driver empty. He motioned Maddie to the seat beside him as he got in the driver’s side.

“Everybody here know Maddie?” John said to the group. “Maddie, that’s Jiang and Lao Chu in the back seat, Pete and Dave right behind you.”

“Hi guys,” she said. The replies were polite from the back seat and somewhat ribald from the middle seat. John gritted his teeth and hoped that those two infantile jerks would behave themselves. He gave Maddie a sidelong glance. She seemed, thank goodness, to be unaware of any undercurrents.

John switched the wipers on to get rid of the thin sheen of dew on the windshield and backed the van out.

“Excuse me, ah…Maddie, could you wipe the outside of your window?”

“Sure.” She quickly rolled down the window and wiped it with her arm. She had to reach way out, something that brought the curve of her body into plain view. He took one appreciative look and brought his focus back to the road. Glancing at the rear-view mirror he caught the leer on Pete’s face as he craned his neck.

“That’s enough! That’s good!” he hastened to tell her, a frown creasing his forehead. He cleared his throat, looking for a safe topic of conversation.

“So, what’s on your agenda for today?” he asked as they drove out Campus Drive to pick up Johnson Street. Most of Madison was still sleeping, despite the emerging blue sky.

“Oh, nothing major,” she answered, “just a little weeding and some disease resistance notes.”

“Who are you taking resistance notes for?”

“What do you mean? It’s my experiment,” she answered.

“You had stuff in the field this summer? I thought you were new here.”

“Yeah, I came at the end of May.”

“Then how come—”

“Well, I thought if I got a crop in this summer instead of waiting a year, it would put me ahead of the game.”

“No kidding, you jumped right in. That’s pretty awesome.”

“Not really,” she brushed it off, looking out the window. They were almost to the point where they would pick up highway 151. “I think it’s going to be hot today,” she said.

“Yep! It’s gonna be a scorcher all right!” Pete barked from the back seat.

Maddie appeared startled. As if she’d forgotten there were other people in the car. It was actually kind of creepy that Pete had been listening to their conversation.

“So where’d you come from, huh?” Dave asked, abruptly.

“Me?” Maddie turned her head.


“Michigan State. I did my undergrad and my Master’s there.”

“How come you didn’t stay there?”

She hesitated a moment before answering the personal question. “I…thought it would be good to…experience another school.”

“They offered you money to come here, right?” Dave plunged ahead with his questions.

“What?” Again, she appeared startled by his rudeness. “Yes, they did, a graduate school fellowship, but I turned them down,” she stated.

Surprise registered on Dave’s face. “Why is that?”

“Well, I already have a three year National Science Foundation fellowship. It goes with me wherever I go.”

John was enjoying this. The look on Dave’s face was even more incredulous. “What’s your grade point average?” Dave asked.

John intervened, “Dave, I don’t think that’s any of your business.”

“Just a simple question,” he pressed.

“Well, knock it off. She doesn’t have to tell you that.” John’s tone would brook no defiance.

“Whatever,” Dave mumbled, and returned to quietly staring at their backs.

John took a look at Maddie and redirected the conversation. “A little weeding can get pretty backbreaking,” he said. “How big are your plots?”

“Well…you know how first year grad students are. Always biting off more than they can chew. I think my experiments are probably a lot bigger than they should be.”

They had all started out very ambitious and then had to downsize their research in the next few seasons. “What’s your design? How many replications?”

As they discussed the merits of her plot design he found that he really enjoyed talking to her. She was bright and sensible and when she talked it kept him from focusing on those LEGS. He noticed she liked to cross them and then uncross them very shortly thereafter. She was wearing shorts and a sleeveless top and even though there was no attempt at glamour in her clothing, the effect was heady. He had to tell himself to pay attention to his driving.




I’m really interested in your comments.

DISCUSSION QUESTION 6   What is it like for a woman to enter a male dominated field?

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
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