MY FRIENDS CAN READ IT FOR FREE. (Excerpt #9 from THE HARVEST OF REASON). When people started arriving at the office at eight o’clock in the morning Maddie was putting the finishing touches on her bibliography. She really didn’t know if her paper was coherent, but it was written. She felt a little numb. READ MORE

(if you’re here for the first time look at the excerpts 1-8 in earlier posts)

When people started arriving at the office at eight o’clock in the morning Maddie was putting the finishing touches on her bibliography. She really didn’t know if her paper was coherent, but it was written. She felt a little numb.

“Hi, Maddie, you’re in early,” Saíd Farhadi commented.

“Yeah.” She didn’t challenge his assumption because she didn’t feel like broadcasting the fact that she had pulled an all-nighter to get her paper done. Somehow, it felt more like a failure than a victory. She should have been more organized.

In Dr. Anderson’s class that morning the discussion was about the paper. Maddie sat in the back of the class and watched the proceedings. She found that she wasn’t entirely clueless, but as usual, kept her thoughts to herself unless called upon. One student seemed to shine in the discussion, however, and that was John Pitts. When Dr. Anderson asked for an analysis of the relevance of the paper’s topic to future research, most students had grown silent and only John volunteered an opinion. From there, he and Dr. Anderson appeared engaged in a private dialogue, to which the rest of the students were mere spectators. Maddie thought back to the conversation she had had with John about study groups. She began to understand his never having had a need for one. She didn’t hold it against him anymore. But it underscored her own sense of inadequacy all the more.

Maddie spent every free moment during the next forty-eight hours shadowing Alex Vieira’s lab run. After that she attempted her own trial run. Dr. Gates had said it should only take her a few days to learn the procedure. But at the end of a highly frustrating week Maddie was still trying. She was mad. At herself, for her own clumsiness; at Dr. Gates, for saying the process was easy; she wondered when he had last set foot in the lab. And she was mad at the world, because everything was closing in on her.

At the end of a second week she concluded her first electrophoresis run and realized it would take her weeks to complete the process of screening all her seeds. She decided she couldn’t wait for the final information before planting out her lines in the greenhouse. She would simply plant all sixty-seven lines. They could be growing while she did the lab work, she would make cross-pollinations and later eliminate whatever lines were not relevant, harvesting the resulting seeds. Then she would screen them again, and again plant out the selected lines over winter semester in order to have enough seed for her field experiments next summer. Timing was everything. If she took too long with any stage of the process, her field experiment next summer could be jeopardized. Loss of a growing season was unthinkable; a graduate student could add a year to his or her Ph.D. with such bungling. No—she had to plant the seeds now!

She went to the Walnut Street complex, a huge conglomerate of greenhouses, to set up the planting. When she walked into the greenhouse complex, with its faint odor of Malathion and sterilized soil, saw its newly washed benches, she felt at home. She had to haggle with Edgar, though.

“I don’t have any more greenhouse space,” he said. “You’re supposed to reserve your space at the beginning of the semester.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know that, Dr. Gates didn’t tell me about that procedure,” she said, invoking Dr. Gates’ name in the hopes that higher authority would induce him to try to accommodate her.

“Well, it’s gonna be difficult to find space,” he said. “Come by tomorrow and I’ll see what I can do.”

“Tomorrow?” She knew of at least one bench in the four greenhouses owned by Dr. Gates’ project that was only half-covered with potted plants.

She wasn’t willing to lose a whole day, she had a chunk of time now, and she had to make the best possible use of it. “If there’s something I can help you with, some stuff that needs to be moved, I can do it now. Put me to work,” she said, making a direct offer.

He shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

After clearing the bench, she hauled clay pots down to the soil bins at the entrance to the complex and filled them with sterilized soil. She lost track of how many trips she made back and forth. She was pulling a flatcar of soil-filled pots up the central corridor, back to greenhouse 44 when she heard a familiar voice.

“Whoa!” John Pitts exclaimed, as he caught a pot about to fall off the flatcar.

“Hi, there,” he said, flashing that smile as he handed her back the pot.

How long had he been walking behind her? She hadn’t heard anyone.

“Thanks,” she murmured, brushing a wisp of stray hair behind her ear. You got on your dirty gray sweats and you’re dropping your pots, Maddie.

John reached out a hand to her face. She jerked her head back out of instinct.

“Dirt smudge on your cheek,” he said, and then dropped his hand, apparently realizing that to rub it off would definitely be politically incorrect.

“How’s it going?” he asked while she rubbed her face.

“Oh, it’s going great, just great!” she said.

She was tugging the cart while walking backwards, so she could face him. It was awkward. “Here, let me help you with that.” He reached out for the handle.

“No! I can do it!” she hastened to say, just as his hand closed over hers.

“Sorry, I forgot!” John lifted his hand off the handle.


“You’re Miss Independence.”

“I am not!” she bristled.

“You’re not?” he lifted an eyebrow.

Maddie spluttered. “Oh, you’re bad!” she smiled.

He seemed to be satisfied with her reaction. “You guys gonna be done with your harvest soon?” he asked.

“Well, yeah, we’ve got most everything out of the field, but then we have to do all the threshing, so I think we’ll be going up to Hancock for another good month.” Did it sound like she was complaining? She didn’t want to come off like a whiner.

“Well, you guys are ahead of us then. If we get everything out before the first snow we’ll be lucky.”

“Well, good luck to both of us,” she said, as a parting comment. He held open the door to greenhouse 44 while she awkwardly maneuvered the cart inside.

Luck! She needed much more than luck.

Harvest of Dr. Gates project, for which graduate students were expected to provide free labor, was taking too much of her time, her seminar was coming up, and midterms were almost upon her. Her lab and greenhouse work had to be squeezed into the dawn hours or the late hours of the day. If only she could get the lab tests done in time, she would be able to cut down greatly on the number of crosses she had to make when the plants flowered. But they would begin flowering in four weeks, and she still had weeks of lab work to get done.

Dear God, just let me get through this semester, she prayed.




I’m really interested in your comments.

DISCUSSION QUESTION 9   How is Maddie Hawkins handling the stress of graduate school?

(feel free to pose your own question for discussion)

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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