After discovering the sparks, Brian is determined to make fire but finds it more difficult than he expected. First, he tries to find tinder for the sparks to ignite, but even small twigs do not work. He even tears his twenty-dollar-bill into pieces, but those do not burn either. Finally, he notices the thin, papery bark of a birch tree and attempts to catch the sparks in bits of the bark. Brian learns that the bark has to be even thinner, so he painstakingly shreds it into tinier pieces using the hatchet. Eventually, he succeeds in getting a few of the sparks to smolder briefly in a nest of birch bark shavings.
In this sequence, the relationship between Brian’s new sense of independence and the resources of the natural world around him becomes increasingly explicit. The creation of fire depends on Brian’s efforts, but it is only when he draws support from nature (this time in the form of the birch bark) that he is able to make progress. Notably, paper money is of no use to Brian here, symbolizing his growing distance from the urban, civilized world.
After several more failed attempts to get the sparks to catch, Brian thinks back to his school lessons on fire and realizes that the sparks lack oxygen. By blowing on the sparks in the nest of bark, Brian successfully creates a ball of flames. Brian is ecstatic to see the fire but quickly realizes that it is burning too fast, so he feeds the flames with small pieces of wood. He runs out of the shelter to find bigger pieces of wood and continues feeding the fire until it is burning steadily.
Brian’s ability to face multiple setbacks with calm rationality shows how far he has come since his previous tendency to jump toward despair. Though Brian does not yet think of it in these terms, this moment echoes the pilot’s wise statement that “everything takes learning.”
Brian smiles at the fire, thinking of it as his friend and guard. He marvels at the achievement and wishes he could tell someone about it. Alone with the fire, he looks out over the landscape and wonders what his mother and father are doing at that moment.
Again, Brian reacts with calm to an occurrence that would once have caused him misery, in this case remembering his family. Though he misses them, he manages to think of the fire as a friend, using the power of defining it to create a sense of connection in place of human company.