Cole thinks about the sparrows as he struggles to stay alive. By dawn, he’s hanging on by a thread. His pain gets worse, and unable to put it off any longer, he ashamedly allows himself to defecate. The stench is awful, but he’s too weak to move away. Mosquitos swarm around him. He wants to be angry and blame other things for his predicament, but that takes energy, and Cole is weak. As the sun rises, horseflies begin to swarm too. There’s nothing Cole can do.
As Cole gets weaker, the novel makes the point that it takes a lot of effort to stay angry—and in dire situations like this, a person like Cole has to choose whether they want to be angry or want to live. This more broadly suggests that a life fueled by anger isn’t really living.
Cole watches birds flit around the downed tree and remembers the nest. He spots it and then notices four dead baby birds scattered in the grass. Cole envies them—they died clearly trying to get back to their nest, and Cole doesn’t feel like he ever had a home worth trying to return to. He feels sad and like the birds didn’t deserve to die, but he also can’t figure out why they had the right to live. Haunted, Cole wonders if life—including his—has any meaning. He watches a bird, wonders if it’s the mother, and he thinks that he doesn’t have anyone to search for him.
Again, Cole sees himself in the baby birds—or maybe more accurately, he sees an idealized version of himself in them. Those birds had a mother and a home, things that Cole doesn’t feel like he has. All of this continues to drive home that if a person is willing to humble themselves and pay attention, the natural world has many lessons to teach and can help a person figure out how they want to live their life.
Tears well in Cole’s eyes. He wonders if the baby birds suffered as they died, and though he thinks it’s awful that maggots will eat the bodies, he also thinks that this is the cycle Edwin talked about. Cole knows that dying is part of living and knows that he’ll die someday, but he angrily thinks that right now, he’s no better than a plant. The world hasn’t benefited from his life. With this thought, Cole vows to live—he knows that he’ll have no control in death, but he’ll be able to make choices if he’s alive. Cole also suddenly understands that the power to make others scared is “fake.” He realizes he’s squandered his choices feeling sorry for himself. Now, everyone he hates is safe and warm; Cole’s choices have only hurt him.
It’s telling that Cole vows to live right after thinking that the world hasn’t gotten anything out of him. This is essentially a veiled recognition that life isn’t worth living unless a person gives back and makes the world a better place. With this thought, Cole finds purpose and is able to plot a path forward. However, in order to do this, Cole must also look back and make sense of his past choices. He’s able to see now that anger and intimidating others hurts him most of all, as he’s the one unable to move on from his mistakes and offer anything worthwhile to the world.
The image of a baby sparrow in a nest flits into Cole’s mind. The bird isn’t angry; it’s just helpless and wants food and life. Cole realizes he needs food if he’s going to live. He picks a few blades of grass until he has a wad of grass in his mouth. When he tries to swallow, he chokes. He then chews slowly until he can swallow. He grabs several worms and then opens his mouth to the rain for water. When he’s tired, he realizes he can’t feel any mosquitos on his right arm. His arm, however, is covered in mosquitos. Cole wishes he had the at.óow for protection, but he doesn’t know where it is. Cole sleeps, and when he wakes up, there’s a mouse on his arm. When it steps onto his hand, he grabs it.
By thinking of himself as a helpless, innocent baby bird, Cole has to reckon with his own powerlessness. As he accepts that he’s relatively powerless right now, he’s able to let go of some of his anger—and in doing this, he’s better able to plan how he’ll get through this. This is why, suddenly, Cole is able to muster up his strength and gather food. Meanwhile, wanting the at.óow blanket shows that once Cole begins to leave his anger behind, he begins to crave the safety and warmth (both literal and figurative) that the blanket represents. Companionship and community, as symbolized by the at.óow, can help Cole—whereas his anger cannot.