Touching Spirit Bear


Ben Mikaelsen

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Touching Spirit Bear: Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Cole shudders as the island comes into view. He wonders if the Spirit Bear is out there. Over the last month, Cole sold all his sports gear to purchase the supplies he’ll need. Edwin tells Cole to get out and steady the boat. The water is freezing; Cole thinks he must’ve been crazy to try to swim away last time. Edwin and Garvey move the boxes of supplies to shore, and all three of them drag the boat out of the water. Edwin warns Cole that the water will kill him, but Cole insists that he’s not going anywhere. He asks what they’re going to do first, but Garvey says that they aren’t doing anything: Cole is doing it all himself. He tells Cole to start a fire, set up the tent, and have supper ready in two hours. Then, Garvey and Edwin leave to go walk up the beach.
Again, Cole thinking that he was crazy to try to swim away last time is a marker of how much he’s changed. As Cole becomes a healthier, happier person, the angry teenager he was six months ago will continue to seem more and more foreign—and so will other people who are ruled by anger. Cole understandably thinks that his time on the island with Garvey and Edwin will be about community and working together. However, Garvey makes it clear that they’re here out of the goodness of their hearts—Cole needs to survive on his own if he’s going to make the most out of his second stint on the island.
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Annoyed, Cole eyes the boat, but he decides to stay. When Edwin and Garvey return two hours later, Cole is putting up the tent. Edwin wants to know why supper isn’t ready, but Cole insists that Edwin should be grateful he didn’t escape. Edwin pulls the boat’s spark plug out of his pocket, which makes Cole grumble that the men don’t trust him. Cole asks what they’d do if he didn’t cook, and Garvey says calmly that they’d take him back to Minneapolis. When Cole insists that making hot dogs isn’t a big deal, Garvey tells him that the world is a hot dog, and he instructs Cole to eat one. Cole does as he’s told: he cooks the hot dog and wolfs it down. When Garvey asks how it was, Cole shrugs and says it was fine.
It’s commendable that Cole chooses to stay when he believes he has the opportunity to leave. He’s come to the important realization that he has a choice in how he behaves. Garvey makes this clear, too, when he insists that it’s up to Cole whether he stays or goes. If he refuses to do as he’s told, he forfeits his opportunity; if he accepts that he’s here to atone for something, he can try to make the best out of it.
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Garvey says that the hot dog did what Cole asked of it—it fed him. Garvey asks Cole to pass him one, and he and Edwin hum as Garvey patiently cooks the hot dog. He pours three glasses of water, cuts the finished hot dog into three pieces, and passes glasses to Edwin and Cole. They toast to friendship, and Garvey passes Edwin and Cole plates of hot dog. He tells Cole to eat slowly and savor it, and he toasts something different with every bite. Then, Garvey asks Cole how his hot dog was different from the one Garvey just shared, and Cole says that Garvey just acted like it was different. But Garvey says that life, like a hot dog, can be whatever a person makes it, and he tells Cole to celebrate his time on the island.
Garvey again makes the case that people have a choice in how they live their lives. They can, like Cole, go through life doing the bare minimum required to survive with no joy—or, they can make every day a celebration of life and friendship. Introducing this idea through a meal also helps Garvey introduce Cole to how rituals can help him find meaning in life. Even eating a simple meal kind be a kind of ritual, and Cole can choose to imbue it with meaning much like he can choose to live a meaningful life.
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