MY FRIENDS CAN READ IT FOR FREE. (Excerpt #19 from THE HARVEST OF REASON). It was hard to believe her first year at UW was coming to an end, but when Maddie looked back, she concluded it was just as well. The second half of the semester had gone by in a breathless marathon of deadlines READ MORE

(if you’re here for the first time look at excerpts 1-18 in earlier Blogs )

Chapter 6

And some have drunk of the wine of oneness and these see nothing but the sun itself.

The Seven Valleys

It was hard to believe her first year at UW was coming to an end, but when Maddie looked back, she concluded it was just as well. The second half of the semester had gone by in a breathless marathon of deadlines, exams and papers. At the end everything had converged, so that she was harvesting seed at the Arlington greenhouses with only two weeks turnaround time to get five hundred seed packets prepared for planting up at Hancock.

Final exams had to be fit in with seed preparations and a project presentation for Dr. Gillian’s Disease Resistance class. After they had presented their projects, he had surprised the class by not giving a final exam but simply meeting with the students one on one for a half-hour conversation. Maddie was impressed that a prof would take so much time with his students. The evaluation was more of a discussion than anything else.

“So, Maddie, what are your conclusions from all of our exciting experiments this term?”

Maddie took a deep breath. The lab experiments had been exciting adventures into the world of fungi, bacteria and viruses, but to sum it all up was rather complicated. “I guess…if I had to sum it up I would say that I now have a sense of the incredibly dynamic interaction of plant, pathogen and environment. As a plant breeder, I think that sometimes we try to oversimplify that picture too much. We try to force a one-to-one relationship between one resistance gene and one pathogen when nature is actually a lot more fluid. Just like there could be several races of the pathogen there could also be several genes in the plant that combat the disease in different ways.”

“Excellent! You’ve begun to develop your own philosophy of the disease interaction.”

“Well…I guess. Yes.” She would not have characterized her thoughts as a philosophy, but she didn’t say so.

“That, Maddie, is exactly what I want my students to get out of this class!”

They talked for another half-hour but Maddie never felt under pressure to perform. Because Dr. Gillian seemed so genuinely interested in her thoughts she didn’t worry about how she sounded. She came away with increased confidence in her own research and an A for the course.

Her other courses, Plant Breeding, Statistics and Cytogenetics, were not so informal. She had final exams in each, for which she crammed during every available second. She was determined to not only get off of academic probation (for which she needed a B average) but to do it in such a manner that anyone looking at her transcripts would know that C had been only a blip in an otherwise solid record.

She walked into Dr. Ellison’s exam almost in a fever to pour out what she knew. She had studied so hard and so thoroughly, in study groups and alone, that her brain seemed to be daring the fates. Bring it on. Bring it on!

Her statistics test took a little more effort. She was never sure what statistics really meant anyhow, though she knew the formulas and could accomplish the calculations. If it weren’t almost politically incorrect, she would admit that she HATED it.

This week, by contrast to the end-of-term frenzy, was like a vacation. Maddie was sitting at her desk reviewing the term in her mind, when she realized one of the highlights had been meeting up with Craig Berry again. He had been one of her closest friends in high school and now, attending the meetings of the Black Caucus had become an occasion to go out for coffee afterwards and chew the fat. In fact, the Black Caucus itself had become a source of several new friends. She had bumped into Josette McKendrick a few times, and found that she really liked the bright, even-tempered woman. She had a quirky sense of humor and a warm manner that reminded Maddie of her own sister, now living in Australia.

Lisa came in unexpectedly, saying, “Let’s go for ice-cream.”

“Now?” Maddie arched her eyebrows.

“Best time,” Lisa countered.


It was only eleven thirty in the morning and yet the Babcock HallDairy Plant was already mobbed. The blue skies, the warm spring weather, and the end of term all conspired to entice students and professors alike out of their labs for their daily dose of ice cream. The small tables inside the store were crowded and more people sat outside on the wide cement staircase and on the grass.

Maddie looked up at the board, trying to decide between the more than thirty nutty and fruity flavors.

“What are you going to have?” Lisa asked.

“Oh, I don’t know yet,” Maddie hesitated. Her eyes were scanning the parties at the tables. There were fewer undergraduates around now, only those who had stayed on for summer classes or work-study jobs. Graduate students and professors dominated the room, all enjoying their momentary furlough in a leisurely fashion that belied their workaholic tendencies. The line ahead was so long Maddie figured she still had plenty of time to decide. But what happened next made it completely impossible for her to focus, so that when she eventually got to the counter and the smiling woman asked, “What’ll you have?” she ordered, in a flustered manner, the strawberry cheesecake ice cream, a flavor she wasn’t totally in the mood for.

It was Lisa who turned around first and spoke out. “Hi! What are you guys doing here? As if I didn’t know.”

Maddie turned to see Joel and John and a third guy join the line.

“Everybody meet Scott,” John said, making the introductions. “Scott’s new in our bunch.”

“Hi Scott.” Maddie welcomed, “Where’re you from?”

“U.C. Davis,” he answered, quietly, but apparently eager to please. He blinked a few times and couldn’t seem to take his eyes off Maddie.

“Hey Joel,” she saluted. She didn’t say hi to John because he had already spoken. She wondered why it always felt awkward to say hi to him. He was looking at her though, with those penetrating blue eyes.

“Hello, Maddie,” he forced her attention.


“Hey John, you guys done with planting yet?” Lisa asked.

“Almost. We go up tomorrow and Friday, and that ought to wrap it up. How’s Ellison’s crew doing?”

“We’re done. Tomatoes start early. What about you guys, Maddie?”

“We’ll be in Arlington Thursday and then we’ll be done.”

“Well, boys, looks like it’s time for your annual post planting bash. Are you guys gonna have it this year?” Lisa asked.

“As a matter of fact,” John said, pulling a roll of flyers out of his back pocket, “here’s your invitation.” He handed them each a copy.

Maddie looked down at the handwritten flyer that promised all kinds of diversions, including Jacuzzi and lawn volleyball. It had smiley faces and balloons on it. She smiled inwardly, but scoffed. “Did you do this?” she asked.

“I sure did,” he replied. “Why?”

“Well, it seems sort of…” she was about to say amateur and then switched it to “fun!”

“Oh yeah?” he grinned. “There’s nothing wrong with fun is there?” His eyes dared her to disagree. “Are you coming?”

Maddie felt like they were having a private tête-à-tête in the middle of the crowded room. “I’m…I’m not sure,” she answered, and then turned to order her ice cream, because the line had advanced to the counter.

John realized at that moment he didn’t care if anyone else showed up at the party; this was the only invitation that mattered to him. And—that this woman was becoming an obsession he couldn’t quite control. During the past few weeks he had found himself looking forward to those volleyball games as if nothing else mattered. They would play side by side, or on opposing sides, and he felt exhilarated, under a spell. Since he was done with all his courses he didn’t see her in class anymore and his opportunities to observe her were too limited.

Somehow they had all ended up sitting on the grass together, talking Departmental shop and he had to struggle to keep from watching her lick her ice cream.

“Are you having trouble finishing that?” he asked.

“It’s a little too sweet. I don’t know why I ordered this flavor,” she said, looking away.

“John, I voted for you for president of the Journal club,” Lisa said.

“Thanks a lot. I ought to wring your neck.” he answered.

“You’re welcome, you ingrate.”

“What’s the journal club?” Scott wanted to know.

“Oh, it’s like a meeting we have every Tuesday, during lunch hour, to discuss current literature. People bring in papers they’ve read and share them with the group.” Maddie explained.

Scott nodded, “And what does the president do?” he asked.

“Ah, he gets to chair the meeting, to present papers when nobody else brings any or we run out of material to review, which happens to be every time,” John answered.

“John, you read at least three papers every day of your life. It shouldn’t be any trouble for you,” Joel volunteered.

“You exaggerate, Joel. I’m lucky if I read one. And they’re not necessarily of general interest.”

“No—” he continued after a moment, “what I’m going to do is recruit people to present. The purpose of the club is to get everyone to increase their level of reading, not for one person to dominate the presentations. So, you’re all recruited to bring a paper for the first meeting,” John commanded, “I’m writing your names down.”

“Oh no, I think I’d rather waitand see how it’s done,” Scott said apologetically.

Maddie was impressed by John’s discipline. If he read a paper a day, that meant like three hundred a year. He must be very up on the current literature. She made a mental note to try and emulate him. She also approved of his plans for the journal club. It was consistent with her philosophy of helping everyone to move forward, bringing everyone along. He would not use the position to showcase himself. She was glad she had voted for him herself, although she would never tell him that.

Maddie understood Scott’s reluctance to present a paper. She was still quite intimidated by the atmosphere of the journal club. Many of the professors slipped in to watch and there were frequent questions to the presenters.

“Didn’t you have something like this at Davis?” Maddie asked Scott.

“Maybe. But I was an undergraduate there. So I don’t know.”

“Well, Scott, I’ll let you off the hook for the first meeting,” John said. “Maddie, you don’t have a problem with this do you?”

She didn’t like the way he asked the question. It pushed her into a corner. She couldn’t confess her own trepidation so she said, “No. I’ll bring a paper.”

It was a long way till the journal club resumed its meetings in fall. She’d get over being chicken by then.



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

QUESTION 19: Why is Maddie so torn between admiration and fear of John?

*(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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