Brian stands at the edge of the lake the next day, trying to use his newly made fish spear. To his frustration, the spear doesn’t work, even though he spent hours perfecting it. The fish always swim away too fast. Brian realizes that he needs a way to make the spear faster than the fish and decides that he will try and build a bow and arrow to shoot the fish within the water.
Brian’s calm, methodical response to his frustration exemplifies his developing ability to be thoughtful and patient in response to challenges. His careful attention to the details of the fish’s behavior also shows the detailed understanding of the natural world that he is in the process of gaining.
Brian eats a turtle egg for breakfast and then goes out in search of wood for a bow. He stops on the way to eat raspberries and is surprised to find that his stomach feels full, even though he is still hungry for more substantial food. Walking along the lake looking for springy wood, Brian is startled by a feathery bird that bursts up from the ground right in front of him. Realizing that the bird looked like a chicken, Brian wonders if he might be able to catch one and eat it.
Even as Brian gains mastery over his circumstances, he is clearly still reliant on countless natural resources—eggs, raspberries, wood—for his basic survival. This balance highlights Paulsen’s argument that independence is most valuable as a means to greater interconnection, rather than as an end in and of itself.
Eventually, Brian finds a tree with branches that he thinks will work well for a bow. He stops to cut the wood, and as he is working, he hears a distant whining sound that he slowly realizes must be the motor of a plane. Brian runs back to the camp as fast as he can, hearing the sound get louder and imagining how happy he will be to see the rescuers and be reunited with his mother and father soon.
The arrival of the plane and its connections to human civilization immediately disrupt the balance that Brian has begun to achieve with the natural world. When he begins imagining his rescue, he completely abandons his idea of self-reliance.
Brian takes a burning stick from his fire and runs up to the signal fire that he prepared, lighting it and blowing on the flame. As the fire grows, Brian realizes that the sound of the plane is moving farther away. He searches the sky for the plane but cannot find it.
Brian continues to hope desperately for rescue, even as he fails to find evidence of the plane. In this moment, Brian’s sense of independence vanishes, even beside the fire that once gave him such hope.
Desperate, Brian pleads aloud for the plane to come back. It does not, and soon the sound slowly fades away entirely. Brian falls to his knees and cries, feeling certain that the plane was his only chance for escape. He thinks that his attempts to survive were only games, and that he cannot “play the game without hope.” Completely alone, Brian is overcome by the idea that there is nothing left for him in the world.
Without the hope of rescue, Brian’s ability to gain strength from adversity evaporates, leaving him even more desperate than we had been right after the crash. It seems here that this challenge will be too much for Brian to bear, which makes his transformation in the coming chapters all the more significant. Brian’s definition of the word “hope” is also significant here, as it ties the idea of hope to the idea of rescue rather than sustainable survival.