Touching Spirit Bear

by

Ben Mikaelsen

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Touching Spirit Bear: Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
When Cole and Edwin get back to camp, Garvey is sipping coffee. He points out whales, and Edwin says that tonight, they’ll dance the whale dance. Cole lowers a cooler and makes himself cereal, ignoring Edwin’s suggestion to eat something heartier before working all day. Edwin also says that he and Garvey won’t help with the cabin; they’ll just tell Cole how to do it. He offers Cole gloves to protect his hands, but Cole refuses. Cole spends the morning creating the foundation and floor, ignoring his grumbling stomach. Over lunch, Garvey and Edwin insist that Cole has to do a good job, or his winter will be terrible. When Cole goes back to work, he puts on gloves. He tells Edwin to say, “I told you so,” but Edwin insists that there’s no room for pride here.
Even if Cole has given up on a lot of his negative, unhelpful, and violent tendencies, he still wants to look cool and powerful—which is why he rejects the gloves. However, it’s a mark of how far he’s come that he chooses to put the gloves on after lunch, and he even gives Edwin permission to say, “I told you so.” Edwin, however, tries to impress upon Cole that it doesn’t do anyone any good to be right—Edwin just wants Cole to be safe and as happy as possible in his work.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Cole pulls out hamburger for dinner, irritated that Garvey is smiling. Cole’s hands are blistered. Annoyed, he makes three hamburgers but only cooks one. He eats it as Garvey and Edwin watch and then announces that he’s going to bed. Edwin insists that Cole cook, and then they’ll dance. Garvey asks for a feast, so Cole grudgingly makes two burgers and dresses them with mushrooms, onions, and cheese. His blisters sting as he washes the dishes. Then, Edwin coaxes the flames higher and announces that there are powers all around them. There are animals, seasons, and emotions like anger, and they can dance to all of them and learn what they have to teach. Tonight, they’ll dance the whale dance and learn from whales.
Forcing Cole to make a feast is a way for Garvey to impress upon Cole that even if he doesn’t feel like celebrating, he can nevertheless choose to celebrate. An if he does choose to celebrate, he’ll be able to deepen his relationships with his those around him. When Edwin explains how the dances work, he tries to make the point that if Cole pays attention to his surroundings, they have a lot to teach him. Choosing an animal a day to learn from is another ritual that forces Cole to focus on something other than his anger.
Themes
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Edwin paces around the fire, pretending to dive and duck like a whale. Ten minutes later, he stops, and Garvey takes over. Garvey jumps, imitating a whale breaching. Aware that he has no choice but to dance, Cole bends at the waist and pretends he’s gliding through the water. He thinks he looks stupid but starts to move faster. He imagines migrating and wanders away from the fire. Then, he turns around and heads back, leaping like he’s fishing. Once Cole sits down, Edwin says that whales are graceful and gentle, and Garvey adds that they’re smart and powerful. Garvey asks what Cole learned, and Cole replies that whales migrate but don’t have homes—and he feels like a whale.
Cole thinks he looks stupid because he’s not taking the ritual seriously—but once he starts to actively participate in the dance, he lets go of his self-consciousness and is able to really dive into what whales have to teach. And ultimately, Cole is able to see that whales aren’t so different from him. As Cole begins to make these connections and learn lessons from the animals around him, he develops empathy for all living things—including himself.
Themes
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Garvey stands and announces that it’s time for bed. He gives Cole ointment for his blisters. Cole asks Edwin what a dance of anger is like and if they’ll dance that dance. Edwin says the dance of anger is hard because the dancer faces and releases their anger—but Cole will do that one alone, when he’s ready. Cole falls asleep instantly. Edwin wakes him up before dawn and insists that they have to go to the pond. Cole grumbles—everything hurts. Edwin offers Cole a rain jacket, and they hike to the pond. Edwin shows him how to place his clothes under a tree so they stay dry, and then he leads Cole out to the rocks.
Simply asking about the dance of anger again speaks to how far Cole has come. He now trusts that Edwin is telling him the truth and giving him important information that Cole should make sure to internalize. Following Edwin out to the pond again the next morning is another way in which Cole shows Edwin that he trusts him. He may not be entirely sold on this as the way to handle his anger, but at this point, he’s strengthening his relationship with Edwin.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
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Cole asks how long they have to sit, and Edwin says they sit until Cole can choose between happiness and anger. Cole insists he can choose now, so Edwin edgily says that they’ll sit until Cole is numb. He says that someday, Cole will want to come. Finally, Edwin stands. Cole is thrilled to go back and start a fire, but Edwin says it’s time to “meet [his] ancestors” first. Edwin leads Cole along a rocky slope until he finds a round, bowling ball-size rock. He holds it fondly and says that he’s “touching [his] ancestors.” Then, he gives the rock to Cole and tells Cole to follow. As they head up the slope, Edwin says that Cole’s ancestors struggled, learned lessons, and passed them onto the next generation.
Even if Cole has the basics of this ritual down, Edwin makes it clear that Cole doesn’t totally get it yet. Once Cole figures out why sitting in the pond is important, it’ll become more meaningful—and Cole will be more willing to do it of his own volition. Carrying the rock up the hill is another ritual that gets Cole out in the natural world where he can sit with his thoughts. It’s also very physical, so it’s likely that this hike will do much the same thing that working out in the detention center did.
Themes
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Cole looks back after several hundred feet, but Edwin tells him to pretend the rock is his ancestors. Every step that Cole takes up this hill, he’s carrying his ancestors through his life. Someday, he’ll pass on their lessons. Cole continues up the hill until they reach the top. Edwin takes the stone and sets it down gently before Cole can drop it, and he says that he’s carried it up the hill hundreds of times. With a smile, Edwin says that now the rock represents Cole’s anger—and he should roll it down the hill. Cole gives it a shove and laughs at the thought of his dizzy ancestors, but Edwin patiently ignores this and says that each time Cole does this, he’ll find more meaning and learn more respect.
By asking Cole to think of the rock as his ancestors, Edwin essentially asks Cole to think about other cycles aside from violence that may be a part of his family. It forces Cole to consider what he may have learned from his mom’s choice to finally report Cole’s dad, or to consider his dad as an example of what not to do. Even though Cole doesn’t see the point of the ritual this time, Edwin nevertheless makes it clear that going forward, if Cole wants to improve, he must make the choice to take it seriously.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
Cole scoffs that he’s not doing this every day, but Edwin reminds Cole that it’s his choice to stay angry. He also shares that this was good for him when he was Cole’s age. Cole asks why Edwin thinks he knows what’s best, but Edwin says that nobody knows what’s best—he says that maybe he and Garvey just want to redeem themselves for what they’ve done wrong. Cole snaps that it’s his life, so Edwin says that they should’ve swam longer.
Given the fact that Edwin also served a period of banishment on the island when he was young, Cole should pay close attention to what Edwin says—he might not know what’s best, but he clearly has some valuable wisdom to shares. Cole’s unwillingness to play along reflects how out of his depth he is—he’s never been asked to think or show respect like this, and it’s understandably difficult.
Themes
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon