MY FRIENDS CAN READ IT FOR FREE. (Excerpt #18 from THE HARVEST OF REASON). “It is a very plausible hypothesis,” Dr. Gates said the next day when Maddie shared her results and talked about her theory of how the variants had evolved. She had been so excited by it she had hardly slept. READ MORE

(if you’re here for the first time look at excerpts 1-17 in earlier Blogs)

“It is a very plausible hypothesis,” Dr. Gates said the next day when Maddie shared her results and talked about her theory of how the variants had evolved. She had been so excited by it she had hardly slept. She came in early to find him reading papers at his massive desk.

“However,” he went on, “we have no way of proving it at this point.” Maddie looked at his gray hair and wished he wasn’t so…unflapable. He was a thorough, methodical scientist, but sometimes she felt he was aloof.

“Well, I think it is too early to discard any of these lines yet,” he said.

“Discard? I hadn’t planned on discarding any of them,” Maddie said.

“Of course not, you should plant out the backcross populations for all of them, and we’ll see what resistance ratings they obtain this summer. Let’s hope that it carries through on at least one of them.”

Maddie cleared her throat before broaching a subject she knew to be delicate. “Dr. Gates, I was wondering what the potential would be for developing a multiline…carrying several of the resistance types instead of just one.”

“Well, Maddie, I don’t see why you would want to do that. Band 34C has a pretty high level of resistance. Why would you want to use the others?”

“Well, sir, studies have shown that the increased variability might keep the pathogen population from mutating into new strains.”

He sort of smiled. “Oh, I see where you’re coming from. You’re taking Gillian’s disease resistance course this term aren’t you? He does fill his student’s heads full of theories and chimeras.”

“Well, sir…intuitively it would seem to be a good—”

“Maddie, I’m afraid things like that are not very practical. The Wisconsin Dry Bean Growers Association is very keen on uniformity. In order to release a new variety we must be up to their standards.”

Maddie sat there feeling frustrated, not knowing how to make her case.

“If this were for a developing country market, perhaps it wouldn’t matter,” he continued, “but U.S. agriculture is different.”

“Dr. Gates, I don’t want to be quoting history you know better than I do,” she ventured tentatively, “but U.S. agriculture has, upon occasion, suffered great losses from extreme genetic uniformity. The Southern Corn Leaf Blight epidemic—”

Dr. Gates waved his hand. “Well, yes, but that was corn. Maddie, what you’re proposing is just not done in beans. Now, just take these lines through one more summer and then we’ll figure out what we have to discard.” He spoke with finality and rose from his desk, picking up some folders. “Please excuse me, I have to get to my nine o’clock class.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, I forgot…” Maddie backed out of the door, feeling deflated but unable to pinpoint the exact cause. Dr. Gates’ voice had never wavered in its sedate pitch, but her celebration over last night’s results was considerably dulled. The one relief, though, was that she could continue to advance those lines. If she had been forced to abandon all but line 34C the case would have been closed for good. There was still hope. If only she could learn to make her case more coherently. That was it! She should have been more cautious and not blurted out half-baked ideas without the proper ammunition.

Maddie met Lisa around seven that night and they walked together to the Phys Ed building for the volleyball game. Lisa had been trying to get her there for weeks, ever since some of the guys in the department had reserved a court for Tuesday nights. Volleyball was unquestionably Maddie’s favorite game. She’d played it in high school and even taken some classes in college.

In the locker room she asked Lisa, as she tied her sneakers, “So how many people turn out for this game? Are there enough people to fill the court?”

“It varies, usually we have enough for a full game, if not two. I like it when we have enough for two separate games.”


“‘Cause then you can separate the maniacs from the people who just want a little friendly game of volleyball. And that’s me.”

“Oh!” Maddie made a ponytail and slipped on a headband. This was more than she had expected, it meant there were actually some people who knew the game. She had been a little afraid there would be only amateurs playing slap ball.

“Jeez, Maddie! What are those?” Lisa pointed to the kneepads Maddie was slipping on over her sneakers. “You’re really serious about this game.”

“What?” she asked. “I always play with these on. They keep me from scuffing my knees.”

“They keep me from scuffing my knees.” Lisa mimicked in a high-pitched voice.

Maddie took a swing at her with a towel. It snapped like a whip.

“Watch it!” Lisa yelled and took off after Maddie, who ran through the locker room door and all the way up a wide flight of stairs to the gym. When they ran into the gym Maddie went to do some warm-up exercises while Lisa immediately joined the game on the first court.

In the game going on in the far court the first thing Maddie noticed was John Pitts. That group was playing some very intense volleyball and she noticed that he moved well. Beautifully, in fact. He was wearing dark blue sweat pants and a white shirt. She remembered the day up at Arlington Experiment Station when she had watched him covertly. She shook her head to clear that familiar giddy feeling and she decided she would join in the game that Lisa was in.

Her game turned out to be disappointing in its skill level. Most everybody was serving the ball under-handed; balloon serves that anyone could have returned without a challenge. Lisa seemed to be having a hilarious time and was just as happy if she hit the ball over the net or into it.

There were some protests when Maddie began serving overhanded. She told the protesters she didn’t know any other way to serve so they let her continue. When she was up at the net she called out “Set!” and sent a perfect set to an astonished teammate who didn’t really seem to know that he should spike it over the net.

From then on she sort of busied herself with following the game in the other court. That game was heated, with frequent calls of “I got it!” by players determined not to let the ball die. Only one thing seemed jarring about the game, and that was the presence of Savannah. Clearly, her skill level was not commensurate with the other players. Maddie scoffed, there was probably only one reason why the woman planted herself in the middle of that game. She wanted to be near John.

She saw the ball coming towards her at that moment and reacted by instinct and remembered skill. Taking one step forward and leaping high in the air she sighted the ball with one hand and brought her other hand down to connect with the ball in a perfect spike. The ball passed perilously close to a horrified player’s head, to crash on the court at twenty miles per hour.

“Ooops!” She put her hands over her mouth.

“No spikes here!” they all protested. “Next court!”

Maddie had no time to apologize. She knew she had caught everyone by surprise, that she had overplayed a little, but really, there was no need for them to make such a big fuss. She was physically ejected from the court by Lisa and escorted to the other game. “Here, you guys! You can use this woman right here!”

The guys had all turned around to look when the protests began. Alex Vieira moved off the court saying “I was just about to take a break. You can have my spot. I’ll rotate in later. Good luck, Maddie.”

Maddie was still a little disoriented by being thrust into the middle of their game. She was on the team opposite to John Pitts. As she came into the back center position she had to return the serve. The opposing team’s server was tough but she managed to return a solid bump to the setter in the front row on each of four serves. After the fourth successful return the guy must have figured he’d miscalculated on her weakness and placed his serves elsewhere.

As she rotated through the positions she became aware of several things. The first was that Savannah was an embarrassment to the female race. To those women for whom volleyball was a serious business, that is. Why she didn’t join the other game in progress astounded Maddie. The players on Savannah’s side were playing as if they only had five players, moving in to cover any balls that might have landed in her zone.

Maddie had not aimed a serve at Savannah yet, because she thought that would have been a cheap shot. It was too easy and she didn’t want to make a fellow female look bad. But Savannah must have decided it was an opportune moment to take a break and called for someone to fill her spot, her lips pursed in a prim line as she left the court.

On Maddie’s side they must have thought initially they had to cover for her too, because several balls were stolen from right in front of her by her overzealous teammates, despite her calling the ball. After a few such episodes, though, she began to yell “Mine!!!” in a gruff voice, and not back down even when a collision with another player was imminent.

It was effective. They stopped stealing her balls, but she still could not get anyone to set her up for a spike. When she was front-left the setter only set to the player on his right. When she was front-center she set to both sides with precision. When she was front-right she despaired of a set until Alex Vieira set her up from the back row.

“Maddie, for you!” he called, setting it high in an arc that would have landed straight on top of the net if Maddie hadn’t run in, jumped up like a spring and pounded the ball straight through the block of the opposing player. The ball ricocheted off the ground, completely untouched.

When she landed on her feet she realized her opponent had been John Pitts. She knew a sweet taste of victory for a moment and then all hell broke loose as her teammates cheered over the conquered point.

“Nice!” said the tall German who had been the stingy setter.

“Thanks. Maybe next time you’ll give me a set,” Maddie quipped, flashing him a wide grin.

John Pitts was having some trouble concentrating on the game. When Maddie walked into the gym he’d been conscious of some interest but had shrugged it off because he’d sworn off hard cases. But then she had been thrust right into the middle of his game and he could no longer ignore her.

He had been miffed at Dave at first, for targeting her with his killer serves, but her skillful returns were a welcome surprise. When she had shown signs of coming in for a spike he had moved instinctively to block. He’d never dreamed he would come away with a mouthful of ball. This awoke in him a competitive spirit his teammates had not been able to bring out. Now he was paying attention.

“Your serve, Maddie!” someone yelled. As she walked towards the back of the court his eyes followed obediently. Her shapely form arched to perfection as she tossed the ball a few feet in the air and delivered an over-hand serve that zinged passed his head and landed on the line to his left. His breath came out in a “Huh!” He had been distracted, caught completely unawares. The other team was exploding over the ace serve and coalescing into a united front. What was it about that woman; did she have this same effect wherever she went?

When she prepared for the next serve she looked directly at him. He could have sworn she was about to give him a chance to redeem himself. His adrenaline rose and he bent his knees, with feet planted apart, hands folded, waiting to return her serve.

She aimed, hit, and sent the ball to the opposite side of the court, once again to land on the floor before anyone could get it. The little devil! She was sneaky.

From that point on the game became so animated there was never a lull, until John came up against Maddie again in the front line. This time when the setter sent the ball to Maddie for the third and final hit, he was ready. She jumped for the spike and he rose to block but she dinked the ball gently over his head.

“Aw, man, I can’t believe it!” he huffed. He was getting a little tired of eating her dust. While Maddie was engaged in a round of high-fives with her teammates he spoke in an aside to his setter.

“Set me up, Dan. I want this one,” he said.

“Okay, John. You got it.”

Because it had been her team’s serve there had been no rotation, so when the ball came to him in the very next play, he rose to spike and Maddie rose to block. With all the force of his powerful frame his arm came down to strike the ball. In the split-second before it connected, he suddenly realized he could blow her head off with the force of his spike. He decided, with horror, that he had no desire to take that chance. But it was too late. His hand connected and the ball responded to the force. She was right there, in the exact right place. Her flat hands deflected the blow, but it ricocheted sideways to fall into her side of the net. And then all hell broke loose as his team congratulated him for the point.

John didn’t care. He felt sick. And shaken. He wasn’t sure why, but he never wanted to do that again. It wasn’t just the unfamiliar feeling of seriously competing against a woman. It was that he had gotten carried away, had wanted to win, to dominate. And the last thing he wanted to do was compete against that woman. Her delicate features, her curvilinear frame, her brash, sassy, indomitable spirit awoke in him desires that had nothing to do with competition.

He was able to cover the fact that he was freaked out and continue the game but he only began to relax and enjoy himself again after seeing Maddie dive for a ball. He then realized she was not as frail as she looked. It was such a spectacular stunt that as long as he lived, its image would be imprinted on his mind. She had just served a ball from way behind the line and not yet begun to step into the court when the serve was unexpectedly blocked by his teammate. The ball deflected off the arm of one of Maddie’s teammates and would have landed on the floor except for the fact that she took a flying leap forward, landed flat on her stomach, slid five feet and hit the ball one-handed to lift it into the air.

God what a woman! He let out his breath, and laughed at himself. It seems, despite his efforts, he was hopelessly mesmerized by the hard case.



Hey! I’m really interested in your comments.* Please join this global bookclub discussion by leaving a comment below (in the comments box)

QUESTION 18: The agriculture industry. Volleyball. Hmmm!

*(feel free to post your own question for group discussion)

*(you can also post your comment on facebook and start your own discussion with friends)



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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, chastity, college students, equality, female professors, genetic engineering, genetics, global discussion, graduate school, interracial marriage, John Pitts, Maddie Hawkins, national discussion, plant breeding, race on campus, Uncategorized, University of Wisconsin-Madison, women in science and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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