Touching Spirit Bear

by

Ben Mikaelsen

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Touching Spirit Bear: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Edwin shows Cole how to suspend their coolers of food so the bears can’t get it and announces that they’ll “dance [their] feelings” around a fire tomorrow. Cole lies awake long after Edwin and Garvey fall asleep, thinking of the Spirit Bear: he wonders if it’s angry or curious. He also thinks about his parents, wondering if his dad cares about anything aside from himself, and he hopes that Peter is okay. Cole becomes angrier as he tosses and turns, thinking about how Garvey and Edwin will watch him work all day tomorrow. He also doesn’t think that the chores he’ll need to do to stay alive once he’s alone are anything to celebrate.
Even though there are positive elements to Cole’s internal monologue, it still inevitably turns to anger. By giving in to these angry thoughts, Cole makes himself less and less able to look on the bright side or find things to celebrate. Especially when he’s alone on the island with no one else to distract him, Cole will have to actively look for things that make it seem like life is worth celebrating and enjoying—and now is a great time to practice.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Almost as soon as Cole falls asleep, Edwin shakes him awake. It’s still dark, but Cole stumbles into his clothes and out of the tent. Edwin gives Cole a pair of knee-high boots and sets off, insisting that they shouldn’t waste their morning. Cole’s joints are stiff and achy as he follows Edwin along a stream. Edwin asks about Cole’s restless night, and Cole admits that once he starts thinking, his mind won’t stop—he’s still angry. Edwin stops hiking when the stream turns into a calm, clear pond and announces that they’re going swimming. Edwin strips and swims to the center of the pond with a stick, insisting that Cole has to trust him if he wants Edwin to trust him.
Again, Cole is making progress, as he’s honest with Edwin about what he’s feeling and he can identify his own negative thought processes. But he nevertheless makes a point to take issue with everything Edwin asks him to do. This surliness doesn’t indicate that Cole is willing to take responsibility for his actions or that he respects Edwin, hence Edwin’s warning that Cole has to trust Edwin if he ever expects to earn Edwin’s trust. In other words, Cole needs to be on his best behavior if he wants others to be on theirs.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Cole strips and wades into the pond. He sits on rocks next to Edwin and notices that Edwin seems impervious to the cold. Cole feels vulnerable and stupid; his teeth chatter as he asks what the stick is for. Edwin announces that the right end of the stick is Cole’s anger; the left end is his happiness. He tells Cole to break off his anger by breaking off the left end, and Cole does as he’s asked. Edwin shakes his head; there’s still a left end on the stick. Cole breaks the stick again and then says this is dumb—there will always be a left end on the stick. Edwin says this is the point. People try to get rid of their anger, but they can’t.
It’s telling that Cole notes how vulnerable he feels in the freezing water—this is probably a good thing, given how being made aware of his vulnerability is what made him decide that he was ready to give up on his anger. However, Edwin again makes the point that it’s impossible for anyone to actually get rid of their anger. It’s something Cole will have to deal with the rest of his life; the struggle is just to find healthier methods of coping.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
When Cole then asks why bother trying, Edwin asks Cole if the sky is sunny or stormy. Cole looks around and says it depends on which way he looks. With Edwin’s prodding, Cole says that he’d say it’s stormy if he just looks at the clouds, and he’d say it’s sunny if he just looked at the sunrise. Edwin says that the sky, sticks, hot dogs, and life are the same—they’re what a person makes of them. If someone focuses on anger, they’ll be angry. Cole interrupts and says desperately that he has no choice, but Edwin asks if he’s been angry since getting in the water. Cole hasn’t been.
Edwin makes the point that if Cole chooses to put himself in uncomfortable situations that distract him from his anger, it’ll gradually become easier to cope with his feelings. In this way, Edwin proposes that rituals that demand attention and concentration are some of the best tools available to people as they attempt to gain control over their emotions.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Get the entire Touching Spirit Bear LitChart as a printable PDF.
Touching Spirit Bear PDF
Smiling, Edwin says that when he himself was banished, he came to the pond to deal with his anger. It gave him a choice of what to focus on. He explains that happiness and anger are habits; with the pond, Cole can learn to make happiness a habit. He admits that the winter will be hard since it’ll be too cold to soak. They climb out, and Cole notices that his stiff joints feel better. Cole announces that Edwin made way more sense than the counselors and psychologists he saw, and Edwin says that those people think Cole should be able to get rid of the left end of his stick.
Edwin confirms again that the whole point of the pond is to give Cole something to do every day that takes his mind off of the negative thoughts in his head. It is, in a sense, a form of mindfulness or meditation. In the winter, when it’s too dangerous to sit in a cold pond, Cole will have to come up with other rituals that serve the same purpose—and that’s something Cole will have to figure out for himself.
Themes
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
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