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ONLINE CHAPTER SUMMARY/SYNOPSIS
The survival bag is just like buried treasure for Brian. Inside, he finds a sleeping bag which he hangs to dry on the outside of his shelter. He also finds a foam sleeping pad, an aluminum cookset, a waterproof container with matches and two small butane lighters, a sheath knife with a compass in its handle, a first-aid kit, a ball-cap with the words Cessna on the front, and a fishing kit. It is incredible wealth and reminds him of all the holidays when he would unwrap his gifts and turn them and examine them in the light. He even finds a .22 survival rifle that is broken down and can be put back together, along with a box of fifty shells. After Brian puts it together, he senses that it removes him from the wilderness and he’s not sure if he likes the change very much.
At the bottom of the pack, Brian finds a small electronic device encased in a plastic bag. He comes to realize that it’s an Emergency Transmitter. He turns its switch back and forth a few times, but when he hears nothing, not even static, he sets it aside, believing it’s been ruined in the crash. Finally, he finds two bars of soap and the freeze-dried food. Package after package of food will last him a very long time if he’s careful. He tries one of the dinners, an orange drink, and a peach dessert and thinks that the moment is just fine.
At that exact moment, as he savors the food, he hears another plane. It
glides over him, turns around and lands on its floats on the lake. Brian just
stares at the plane, not quite understanding that his ordeal is finally over.
The pilot steps out and studies Brian for a moment until he says, “. . . You’re
him, aren’t you? You’re that kid. They quit looking a month, no almost two months
ago. . .” Brian can only respond by saying, “My name is Brian Robeson. Would you
like something to eat?”
This chapter is filled with ironies. Brian finally finds the survival kit even though he has learned on his own how to survive. He finds a rifle which makes him unsettled, because its power and mastery seem to separate him from the wilderness that has become his home and he doesn’t like the feeling. And just as he is savoring his new-found wealth that nearly killed him to recover, his ordeal ends with the arrival of a plane. It is reminiscent of a “deux ex machina,” an almost supernatural device used by a writer to save his hero. No matter, though, what device Gary Paulsen uses, Brian is finally found, knowing that really, in the end, he has saved himself.
The pilot who landed in the lake is a fur buyer who was mapping Cree trapping camps for future buying runs. He has been drawn to Brian through the Emergency Transmitter which Brian had unwittingly turned on. Brian has been alone in the woods for fifty-four days, and he has lost seventeen percent of his body weight. It will make him lean and wiry for several years afterwards. The changes he has experienced will prove to be permanent: he has gained immensely in his ability to observe what is happening around him and react to it. He has also become more thoughtful, and from that time on, he will think slowly about something before speaking.
Food never loses its wonder for Brian. He will find himself staring in grocery stores years afterwards. He will also do research to answer the questions he bri8ngs home with him. For example, he will find out the gut cherries are actually called choke cherries, and the foolbirds are called ruffled grouse. He also has many dreams in the years to follow, especially of the pilot whose body is recovered by the Canadian government. The dreams are often triggered by the pictures the reporters and TV stations take, but they are not nightmares, because the experience would never be bad for him. Fortunately, he has been rescued before the winter came on, because he discovers in his research that he might not have survived that experience.
As for Brian’s parents, they are, of course, excited and happy that he’s alive, and for a time, it seems as if they might get back together. However, within a week after his return, things get back to normal. His father returns to the oil fields, and his mother stays in the city and continues to see the man in the station wagon. As for the Secret, Brian tries several times to tell his father, but in the end cannot bring himself to say a word about the man kissing his mother.
The epilogue gives the reader the results of Brian’s return to the real world. He is a different young man and will remain so for years afterward. He is grown in body and in mind and exhibits his maturity in the way he now deals with life. He even has the maturity to keep the Secret exactly that, a secret. The information can only hurt, and because he has known a worst scenario than divorce, he is able to keep it to himself and recover from the pain it caused him.