Brian wakes up in terrible pain in the middle of the night, screaming for his mother. He feels that the berries he ate are tearing his stomach apart, and he throws up in the sand outside his shelter before finally crawling back inside. He relives the memory of seeing his mother in the station wagon, this time thinking of her kissing the man in the car. Tormented by the Secret, he eventually falls asleep again.
The physical pain of Brian’s illness quickly transports him back to the passive, despairing mindset that he showed at the start of the book. This demonstrates that though Brian now senses the potential for growth through adversity, he has not yet matured enough to let go of his simplistic view of his parents’ divorce. The hidden danger of the berries also underscores the complexity of the natural world and Brian’s need to understand it much better.
Brian awakens early, again swarmed by mosquitos. He does his best to tidy up his camp and, while drinking from the lake, sees his reflection in the water. Brian thinks how ugly he looks and is overcome by misery at how alone and battered he is. He cries “self-pity tears, wasted tears” for several minutes before being distracted by his hunger and deciding that he must eat again.
Brian chooses some of the riper berries, which he now calls gut cherries, and carefully washes and eats them, deciding to get rid of the less ripe ones. He decides that he can still eat them if need be but that he wants to find better berries as well. Planning his route, Brian thinks about returning home later and realizes that he has thought of the shelter as home. Looking at it, he decides that it’s not such a bad place and resolves to call it home from now on.
Despite his despair moments earlier, Brian’s survival instinct quickly wins out, showing how essential his drive to sustain himself in the wilderness is. By calling his shelter “home,” Brian again uses language to shape his reality, giving himself a sense of belonging without actually changing anything but the words he uses.
Brian explores farther along the lake and discovers a clearing full of raspberry bushes. Brian is delighted to find that they are sweet and ripe, and he eats until he is full, careful not to push his stomach too much. He starts to pick more and is feeling happy about his situation when he turns around and sees a black bear.
Discovering a sustainable, safe source of food is a significant milestone in Brian’s mastery of his circumstances. Here, his ability to take action brings meaningful rewards.
Brian is frozen with fear and watches as the large, beautiful bear studies him with curiosity. The bear calmly continues eating raspberries and then leaves the clearing. As soon as it is gone, Brian runs back toward the shelter in terror. However, he stops halfway, reflecting that the bear was only curious about him and in fact did not try to hurt him. Brian convinces himself to believe that the bear does not mean him harm and resolves to go back and pick more berries.
Right when Brian is rewarded for his proactive search for food, the natural world again reasserts its power. However, this time that power is not frightening or painful; rather, the bear is beautiful and leaves Brian in peace. Again, connection to nature forces itself upon Brian, balancing out his independent approach to survival.
Brian picks raspberries for the rest of the morning without seeing the bear again and then returns to his shelter when it starts to rain in the afternoon. He discovers that the raspberry juice is seeping through his windbreaker and drinks it happily, realizing that the pain in his body has greatly decreased since the crash. Brian thinks back on the bear, wondering whether it was as surprised as he was, and finds himself thinking about something other than himself for the first time since the crash. Just in case other dangerous animals appear, he places his hatchet by his head when he goes to sleep.
Contemplating the bear, Brian finds himself drawn out of his own selfish concerns for the first time since the crash. This shift coincides with his first moment of real pleasure as he enjoys the juice of the raspberries. This moment hints at the necessity of connecting with forces outside oneself; while an independent mindset allows Brian to survive, it is only connecting with the other creatures around him that brings him a sense of actually thriving.