Brian stands in the shallows of the lake, watching a fish swim by. The fish is too far away for Brian to catch, but he does not care because he is sick of eating fish. Instead, Brian is looking for one of the birds he calls “foolbirds,” which he believes live near the lake. Then he freezes instinctively and thinks back on other times that a similar instinctive feeling has saved him from danger.
Brian’s complete transformation from the end of the previous chapter shows the full potential of an individual’s ability to mature in response to a challenge. Brian is much more capable than before—as evidenced by how successful he’s become at fishing—but he is also much more sensitive to the world around him, again showing how closely independence and connection can be tied together.
Slowly turning around, Brian sees a wolf standing up the hill from the lake. It is huge, and he is initially frightened, seeing the wolf look at him and claim him “as his own.” However, Brian looks back at the wolf and slowly realizes that the wolf is “another part of the woods, another part of it all.” He feels calm and nods and smiles to the wolf. Three more wolves appear, and then all four walk away, Brian nodding to each in turn.
This moment is perhaps most representative of Brian’s changed relationship with the natural world. Rather than appearing as a menacing blur as it did at the start of the book, nature now seems rational and harmonious to Brian. Even seemingly dangerous creatures like the wolves are actually peaceful friends in this new reality.
Brian reflects on how much he has changed in the 47 days that have passed since the crash. It has been 42 days since the rescue plane turned away and left Brian alone, an experience which he now thinks left him “born as the new Brian.” He relives the despair he felt that day and the experience of trying to commit suicide using the hatchet. In his memory, he lies awake all night wishing for his suffering to end, but in the morning he feels disgusted by the version of himself that contemplated suicide and realizes that he would never be the same. That morning, Brian decides that he will not allow himself to die.
Brian’s transformation after the departure of the rescue plane is the book’s starkest example of growing through adversity. The pain of seeing the plane leave was Brian’s greatest challenge, but it also led to his greatest leap in maturity. Because Brian was already learning to approach setbacks thoughtfully when the plane appeared, he is able to turn even his worst experience into something positive. Paulsen underscores Brian’s agency in this situation with the image of the hatchet, which Brian considers and then rejects as a tool of his own destruction. While the difficult experience is a key component of Brian’s growth, it is clear that his own choices are also essential in creating this new, more powerful version of himself.
Brian also reflects on the many mistakes that he has made since that morning, noting them all in his “mental journal” so he can tell his father about them later. He thinks back on the first bow he made, which shattered in his hands and almost blinded him. He later improved the bow and figures out how to shoot fish, finally understanding that the water refracts light and makes the position of the fish appear different than it actually is.
After catching his first fish, Brian roasts it over his fire and becomes obsessed with catching and eating more fish. He also discovers that he can use the scraps from one fish as bait for more fish. After eating so many fish that first day, Brian feels a new “tough hope” within himself, based on the idea that even if he won’t be rescued, he is able to take care of himself in the wilderness.
Brian’s new understanding of “hope” contrasts sharply with the way he defined it when the plane departed. Before, hope referred to hope of rescue, but now Brian understands that he is able to create his own, more powerful “tough hope.” This new definition relates closely to his realization that true survival means integrating himself into the wilderness, rather than trying to control it as an independent actor.