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Brian’s first spear doesn’t work, because the fish are just too fast. So he makes another with two prongs, but that doesn’t work either. He realizes that somehow he is telegraphing his motion before he thrusts the spear. The fish see it and flash away. Then it occurs to him that he needs something to spring the spear forward faster, so he decides to “invent” a bow and arrow. He momentarily stops to eat a few raspberries, but they don’t fill him, and he realizes he has a hunger that makes him want to hunt.
As Brian is searching for just the right materials to create his bow and arrow, he sees a little bird that reminds him of a very small chicken, which he very nearly steps on before it takes flight away from him. That, too, becomes a possible source for food.
Then, as he is chopping and shaping his bow, Brian hears the persistent whine of a plane engine, and he drops everything to race to the bluff where he has built his signal fire. He very nearly has it going when the sound moves away abruptly as if the plane had turned. He begs the pilot to look back and see the signal fire, but it doesn’t happen. Then, Brian feels the crushing thought that the searchers are not going to return, not now, not ever. He feels the tears begin to fall and thinks all the work he has done is silly, just a game. He knows he cannot play this game without hope and now hope seems to have died.
The most poignant aspect of this chapter is beyond
the maturity that Brian exhibits as he “invents” the tools he needs to hunt. It
is his feeling that his family and everyone that means anything to him have left
him behind, and he is more alone than he has ever been.
The chapter begins with Brian in the water, standing quietly, hoping to make the kill. It is then, at the moment when he most needs the help, that he has another encounter: he has been looking for the little birds to perhaps kill one when he hears a sound before he even knows he’s heard it. There, two steps ahead, is a mother bear, and had he taken those steps, he would have been between her and her two cubs. He stands there patiently and waits for her to leave just as he did with the other bear and once again, it works. Then, he sees a wolf, up and away from the lake. The size of this animal and its yellow eyes momentarily freeze him, but he soon comes to the realization that it, like the bears, are just another part of the woods as he is now, and the fear leaves him. He nods to it and the three that follow it and smiles at each. They quietly trot away, and once again, Brian realizes that he is completely changed now. In the forty-seven days since he has crashed in the lake, he has died and been re-born. He is reminded of the awful night when the plane had turned and left him behind and how he had laid on the rocky ledge all night with a feeling he called clouddown, a feeling when made him want to take the hatchet and end it all. He had even taken his hatchet and made many cuts on his arm as if to test his ability to kill himself. However, the blood he sees at first light makes him hate what he thinks of as the old Brian - the weak Brian - and at that moment, two thoughts come into his mind. First, he is not the same, and second, he will not die, and he will not let death in again. He is new.
So, Brian takes on the new task of making the perfect bow. He uses the lace from his tennis shoe to make the bow string and he makes the bow itself several times until it is more flexible. Then, he realizes that he is not hitting the fish, because he has forgotten that water refracts - bends light - and that the fish are not where they appear to be. He needs to aim just under them. Finally, he makes his first hit, and it is a golden moment for him. He has found a way to live. Using a green willow stick, he roasts the fish over his fire, eats the tender, moist meat inside, and finally begins to satiate his hunger. When he takes the scraps and inedible parts of the fish back to the lake to get rid of them, he sees hundreds of other fish swarm around them to clean them up. Now he sees that he has bait. It is a day of great pride for Brian, because he has lost hope that he will ever be found, but he has gained new hope that his knowledge will let him survive. He thinks he is full of “tough hope.”
The most important ideas presented in this chapter concern how Brian has changed. He has become a part of the wilderness where he now is living. He is a creature of the woods just like the bears and the wolves. He has also overcome his despair at the rescue plane leaving him behind, and he has built within himself a new hope that he will survive even though he no longer believes that he’ll ever be found. His “tough hope” has been formed from despair, but if creates a new and even more fascinating individual who is truly now a man.