Although he marks each passing day on a stone near his shelter, Brian thinks of time in terms of significant events rather than days. In particular, Brian remembers “the day of First Meat” as a significant milestone. He recalls wishing for meat obsessively after getting sick of fish and berries, wondering how to catch the squirrels, rabbits, and foolbirds that he sees out in the woods.
Having given up some conventions of human civilization—such thinking in terms of days—Brian is free to pursue increasingly ambitious goals like catching foolbirds, which again shows the power of surrendering to the order of the natural world. Brian’s boredom with fish and berries also demonstrates how familiar he has become with the wilderness around him, a depth of understanding that seemed impossible to him at first.
Brian thinks back on the long, frustrating process of learning to catch foolbirds. Because the birds are so well camouflaged, they are nearly impossible to see even when they are very close by. It is not until Brian realizes that he is “looking wrong” that he notices the unique pear-shaped bodies of the birds and learns to recognize them by their shape rather than their color or pattern.
Brian’s patient persistence in hunting the foolbirds is a key example of Brian’s new capacity to be thoughtful and perceptive rather than rash and easily discouraged. The concept of “looking wrong” also provides insight into Brian’s heightened sense and awareness of the natural world. By showing Brian getting meat right after he corrects this flawed perception, Paulsen highlights just how rewarding it is to be attuned to the tiniest details in nature.
Using his newfound ability to see the birds, Brian attempts to shoot them first with his bow and arrows and then his old fish spear. After missing many times, Brian finally spears a foolbird. He reflects on how different the experience is from buying a chicken at the grocery store and teaches himself to clean and pluck the bird before roasting it.
Brian’s thoughts about how he used to get food at home illuminate the stark contrast between urban life and the natural world. Though getting food is easier in an urban setting, Brian’s sense of joy and accomplishment upon catching the foolbird illustrates the unique value hidden within nature’s hardships.
Through trial and error, Brian figures out how to roast the bird over his fire, turning it on a pointed stick in order to cook it evenly. Taking his time to cook it, Brian thinks how important it is to be patient, reflecting that “so much of all living was patience and thinking.” Finally, the bird is cooked and Brian takes a bite. He thinks back on all the other food he has ever eaten and realizes that none of it has ever tasted as good as this First Meat.
Here, Brian consciously reflects on how crucial it is to be patient in all situations, hinting that his experiences will lead him to approach life differently even after he leaves the wilderness. This moment of reflection shows the depth of Brian’s growth from the panicky, impatient boy he was before the plane crash. The particular deliciousness of the meat also reiterates the value of working hard for something as opposed to getting it easily as Brian would have back home.