I don't know what possessed me to drive sixty miles to take Juniper to the blueberry patch the other day. Of course she had said she wanted to go. She is at the age where if you ask her if she wants to go scrape up pieces of putrid goat fat sitting on the sidewalk outside the Halal slaughterhouse up the street she yells "yeah!" and then ten seconds later you say "Let's start a high-end dog food company!" and she yells "yeah!" but then half an hour later she's crying like a fucking baby when you hand her the kid-sized trowel and there are only like six flies buzzing around a perfectly good pile of hardly-rotten goat meat. Of course she had said she wanted to go pick blueberries. They are her #1 favorite food. We read Blueberries for Sal every other day. I thought I was doing her a favor. I dressed her up in overalls like Lil' Sal and gave her a berry pail and we drove for what seemed like forever out on godforsaken washboard dirt roads until we came to a blueberry farm. But when I parked the car and went to lift her out of the seat she started wailing like a Romanian widow, screaming, "I don't want to pick blueberries." I instantly spun around sixty times and in a puff of smoke transfigurated into my own father for like twenty seconds and was all, "You're picking blueberries whether you like it or not, bub."

And goddamn it if there weren't hundreds and hundreds of white people already out there picking blueberries. After eleven months in Detroit, I am more and more shocked to venture out of the city and see how many goddamn white people there are in this world. You always hear racists saying stupid shit about how black people and Mexicans breed "like rabbits," but I've got to really hand it to white people when it comes to reproducing a whole lot. We are everywhere! As an added bonus, the other day was apparently fundamentalist-home-school day at the blueberry patch. Now I have nothing against home schooling in principle, but in practice it always seems to be performed by women who dress like Little Critter's Mom, you know, like they just stepped off the polygamist compound. Why do fundamentalist women have such bad hair? Seven or eight of these women stood there barking orders while several platoons of towheaded matryoshki children filled bucket after bucket of blueberries. It was like the rowing scene in Ben Hur except with blueberries. And here I thought only underage Mexican kids worked that hard picking fruit in America.

Like the strumpet mother in Blueberries for Sal, there was an urgency with which these neo-frontier women forced their children to work that seemed to belie the modern era of flash freezing. "We will take our berries home and can them," the mothers seemed to say, "Then we will have food for the winter." I wanted to intervene, "Ladies, ladies, let me tell you about this magical place called the grocery store. You can get blueberries there whenever you want." But then I realized today's lesson might have been about preparing for the End Times. Either that or what had attracted these families to this particular farm was almost certainly what had attracted my apostate-fundamentalist Dutch ass to this particular blueberry farm: the plump, delicious blueberries were only $1.15 a pound.

As a kid every summer I would get dragged to the blueberry farm, where I was given a piece of very practical advice: "You can eat as many blueberries as you want while you're here and you don't have to pay for them, so eat as many as you can before we're done." I remember eating hundreds---no thousands. I grabbed them by the handful and let them roll from my fingers into my fist and then popped them into my mouth, swallowing even the bitter ones that had not ripened yet and the mushy fat ones that had grown too ripe already. I would arrive at the blueberry patch dreaming of blueberry crumb pie and blueberry pancakes, blueberry jam and banana-blueberry muffins and blueberry cobbler, but I would leave looking like a post-juicing Violet Beauregarde with a severe case of diarrhea.

Juniper picked maybe three berries the entire time we were there. You could only make a legitimate case for calling one of them blue. She spent the rest of the time eating the berries that I had picked, just like that annoying little scamp in the book she loves so much. When she wasn't eating my blueberries, she was standing by the edge of the forest at the end of the rows yelling into the trees: "Bears! Where are you bears? Come out bears!" After spending a few minutes trying to explain the difference between fiction and reality, I gave up and just reminded her that Lil' Sal did pick some berries herself, and I pranced up and down the rows of bushes saying shit like, "Now Juniper, you pick your own berries," and, "Kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk." The home school kids were whispering amongst themselves, "Gosh, what a loser."

At some point I made the mistake of telling her that on the way home we would be stopping by the hospital to see her Nana and Grandpa. They were in Ann Arbor to begin the process of a bone marrow transplant. I was hoping Juniper would want to pick some berries for her Nana. When I suggested she do so, she just picked a bunch of berries from my bucket and put them into her pail, saying, "Look dada, look at all the berries I picked! Let's go." Who would rather spend a few hours in a cancer ward than pick blueberries? My daughter, that's who. Unfortunately for her, I am a man of principle. When blueberries are $1.15 a pound and they are your kid's favorite food, no amount of whining is going to prevent you from going home with any less than twenty pounds of blueberries. "Just a few berries more," I kept saying to her, over and over. When it came time to leave, we ended up in line behind an entire regiment of home schoolers. It was part of their lesson to have each of them weigh their berries and pay separately. It took nearly an hour for these D-list Duggars to complete their transactions and pile into their 15-passenger vans. While waiting, Juniper's stranger anxiety kicked in and every time someone tried to talk to her she howled and swung her pail, tossing blueberries all over the ground. "He doesn't like strangers, does he?" an old man said while I picked up her berries and put them back in the pail along with a considerable amount of dirt and straw. In the car, Juniper asked me to tell her a story about the old man who tried to talk to her. I looked at the clock and realized we would be getting to the hospital just as Wood's stepdad emerged from his spinal tap.

Juniper is terrible in blueberry fields, but wonderful in hospitals. Over the last six months, we have visited Wood's step dad in various stages of chemotherapy, and whenever she enters his room, it brightens and the sense of infinite sorrow is lifted from the air. She knows nothing of cancer, or death. She only knows that she loves him and wants him to read her books. She had skipped her nap when we walked into the University of Michigan's imposing cancer center, but the lack of sleep came with none of its usual crabbiness. The news was bad. The blasts were back in his blood and there would be no transplant until after another round of chemotherapy. Juniper sat on their laps and ate cookies, ignorant of the gravity. At one point, she picked up her pail and said, "Look Nana, I picked these blueberries just for you." Her Nana looked into the pail, at the dusty, straw-covered berries, reached in and grabbed a handful that she dutifully popped into her mouth. "Did you have fun picking blueberries?"

"There were kids there. And an old guy was there too. He tried to talk to Juney and she went Ahhhhh! And there were owls there. And bears, too."