As the Spirit Bear approaches Cole’s saliva, Cole wonders if he’s strong enough to put up any defense. The bear, however, merely licks up the spit and ambles away. Cole begins to cry. If he’s going to die, he wants to die quickly and violently while putting up a fight. It’s insulting that even the Spirit Bear seems to think he’s insignificant. Cole begins to sob and then falls asleep as a storm moves in and soaks him with rain and hail. He dreams he’s a baby bird and can do nothing but submit to the storm and hope to live. In his dream, Cole knows that he needs help to survive.
To Cole, simply starving to death or bleeding out where he is doesn’t make sense. Death, for him, needs to be flashy and violent, as that’s all he knows. However, the fact that the Spirit Bear seems to think so little of him drives home yet again that the natural world isn’t going to play by Cole’s rules and make him feel powerful.
When the storm loses its power, Cole wakes up. He can smell a harsh animal smell and opens his eyes to find the Spirit Bear standing over him, staring into his face. Cole is surprised to realize he’s not terrified—he knows he’ll fight if the bear tries to kill him, but he also knows that if he dies, he’s ready. The bear, however, only looks curious. Cole instinctively gathers spit in his mouth but then swallows; he’s not sure why. Then, he lifts a hand and cautiously reaches out to touch the bear. It seems aware, but it allows Cole to touch it. Cole notices the bear’s warmth and heartbeat, but he also feels trust. He’s not sure why the Spirit Bear allows this after Cole’s attempt to kill it, but Cole takes his hand away. The bear backs away and heads for the bay.
The bear is probably just curious to figure out what Cole even is—it’s possible that it’s never seen a person before. However, it’s still meaningful that the bear allows Cole to touch it. When Cole identifies this as trust, he begins to understand that if others trust him, amazing things will happen. Before, when he approached the bear with anger, he had no chance of touching a wild animal. Now, he has proof that if he treats things kindly and doesn’t lash out, they’ll repay him in kind.
The Spirit Bear wades right into the water and swims away. Cole takes a breath and notices that the world around him seems to have come alive. He notices the color of the water and the seals playing in the bay. Cole can smell his own vomit, but he can also smell seaweed and salt. He thinks that the world is beautiful and wonders why he’s never noticed this before. Cole also realizes that he can’t redo his past; this moment is all he has. He senses that he’s starting to slip away, and though he’s sad to die, he feels content to pass away having trusted the Spirit Bear and having the bear trust him. Cole puts his head down and feels like he’s floating.
Now that Cole understands how important and beautiful trust is, the world around him suddenly looks more beautiful. This implies that if a person approaches life with kindness, compassion, and optimism, it’s far easier to acknowledge how beautiful the world is. Because Cole has lived his life in such an angry haze, he’s never been able to understand this before.
Cole begins to hear a buzzing noise and seagulls. This is annoying—he wants to die in peace. The gulls pick at his arms, trying to lift him. Cole begins to feel warm, soft sensations, and then he feels warm liquid in his mouth. He wonders if it’s blood and spits it out. When more liquid enters his mouth, Cole gives in—he doesn’t think it matters how he dies. He then hears a voice telling him to hang in there. The buzzing noise starts again, and Cole’s pain magnifies as he bounces. Cole tries to die but opens his eyes: the island is gone. There’s a blanket over him, but it’s not the at.óow. He realizes he’s in the bottom of Edwin’s boat and that Garvey is leaning over him. The bouncing motion of the boat makes the pain worse.
Now that Cole has totally given up (like the bird in the nest that he dreamed about), help finally arrives. In essence, this implies that Cole realizes he can’t be helped until he totally gives into his own vulnerability. That his pain increases as he’s being helped, however, foreshadows how difficult Cole’s journey will be going forward. He’s made many important leaps during his time on the island, but this doesn’t mean he has the tools to put these lessons into practice in real life.
Finally, the boat slows and bumps against something. Cole opens his eyes to see lots of people. He cries out in pain as the group lifts him. One person slips, but Cole finds himself on a stretcher and then in a van. Hands carefully lift Cole into a warm bed, and he hears a woman’s voice as more hands clean him up and tuck him in. When Cole opens his eyes, looking for the at.óow, Garvey and Edwin step forward. Garvey says plainly that the fallen tree must’ve gotten Cole, but a Tlingit woman steps up, pulls down the blanket, and says that a bear attacked Cole. Garvey looks scared, so Cole weakly says that he’s okay. Garvey lists all of Cole’s injuries and says that Cole definitely isn’t okay, but Cole argues he is.
Again, giving into his own vulnerability and powerlessness puts Cole in the position of finally being able to accept help from others. This woman is able to clean and dress Cole because he doesn’t try to resist. When Cole insists he’s okay, it suggests that he’s far more interested in his emotional development over the last few days than any lasting damage he might suffer as a result of his injuries. In this sense, he’s becoming less selfish and more accepting of what comes his way.