Touching Spirit Bear

by

Ben Mikaelsen

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Touching Spirit Bear: Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Every morning, Cole soaks in the pond and carries the ancestor rock. In the afternoons, he works on his cabin. He sleeps well at night. By Edwin’s first visit, Cole has built a table, a chair, and a bedframe from driftwood. He’s also started a woodpile and dug a latrine. Edwin says little, but he looks approvingly at Cole’s handiwork. Cole asks Edwin to thank Garvey again for the knife. Edwin leaves, and this time, Cole doesn’t feel so desperately lonely. He hikes along the shore and finds a huge driftwood log, worn smooth and straight. It’s about two feet in diameter. As Cole examines it, he remembers the totem poles he saw in Drake. He wonders if he could carve a totem pole out of this log, but he also knows what else the log could be. That thought scares him.
It’s very telling that when Cole continues to carry the ancestor rock and soak in the pond, he can sleep at night. His rituals make it much easier to simply get through the day, and Edwin’s approval is just a cherry on top. Finding the log, however, tests Cole’s resolve. In this moment, he has a choice: he can make the log into a totem pole (something that would record all the things he’s learned and be a meditative process), or he can make something else (likely a boat) that would allow him to run from his problems. The fact that Cole sees this as a choice at all speaks to how far he’s come.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
Cole uses rope to get the log to the water and then lets it float while he drags it back to camp. He knows this log would make an amazing canoe, but the thought again scares him. Cole makes himself dinner, stares at the log, and goes to bed. He can’t sleep, and in the morning, he sleeps in and skips his soak. When he finally gets up, he reasons that carving a canoe could just allow him to fish—but he knows that he’s lying to himself. With a hatchet, Cole viciously hacks one end of the log into a point. He feels angry. He watches eagles fish in the ocean and realizes that it’s the first day he’s felt angry since Edwin and Garvey left. Though he tells himself he’s angry because he slept poorly, he knows he’s actually angry at himself for making a canoe instead of a totem.
On the first day that Cole doesn’t make his trip to the pond and to carry his rock, his anger consumes him. Rituals, he learns, only work if he keeps doing them—and at this point in his healing process, missing one day can be disastrous. It’s also telling that Cole knows exactly what he’s doing as he fights with himself about whether to carve a canoe. He now has the awareness to know what the right choice is—the only question is whether he’ll be able to consistently make that choice.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
Cole takes a deep breath and hacks a groove around the center of the log. Then, he begins whittling an eagle’s head around the groove. After dark, he builds a fire and dances the eagle dance. When he’s tired from dancing, he wishes he could remember to stay strong and proud, like an eagle. Cole sleeps well that night, and the next morning, he goes to the pond and carries the ancestor rock up the hill. Though he looks for the Spirit Bear, he doesn’t see it.
By destroying this log’s potential to become a canoe, Cole makes the choice to follow through with his agreement with Circle Justice and honor his friendships with Garvey and Edwin. He also takes responsibility for the fact that he considered making a bad choice. Knowing he could make this tough decision will show Cole that he does have the strength to stick by his commitment to the banishment.
Themes
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
When Edwin visits next, Cole asks why he hasn’t seen the Spirit Bear. Edwin suggests that the bear was curious last time, but after Cole’s mauling, Cole became “invisible.” Edwin won’t say what he means by this. He does say that Cole has mail, but that he can’t have it until his year is up. His mom calls Garvey daily. Cole also asks about his dad. Edwin shrugs and says that his dad never spent time in jail, and he can’t say whether Cole will ever have to live with his dad again. Cole asks about Peter, and Edwin replies that his depression is getting worse. Cole muses that he wishes he could help Peter, which makes Edwin say that Cole is close to figuring out the secret to healing.
Though Edwin tells Cole everything he knows about Cole’s dad, it’s clear that he doesn’t really think Cole’s dad is worth talking about. Focusing on his dad would possibly mean focusing on his anger and the violence that consumed him for so long—so Edwin instead wants Cole to think about his mom’s love and the letters he’ll get in a year. Edwin also wants Cole to think about Peter and how he might be able to help—something that will complete Cole’s healing process.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
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Edwin turns his attention to the totem. He examines the eagle and then the tapered end, and he says sternly that it looks like the start of a canoe. Cole whispers that he started to carve one, but he cut the groove so he couldn’t finish. The totem and dancing the eagle dance helped him sleep. He asks if Edwin is angry, but Edwin says he’s proud that Cole was honest. Cole asks what the secret to healing is, but Edwin won’t say. Edwin does explain that totems tell ancestry and stories, and assures Cole that even if he’s not Indian, his totem will tell his story. Cole says he hasn’t come up with a story yet and admits he tried to dance the dance of anger, but it felt weird. Edwin says that Cole will dance it when he’s ready.
Choosing to be honest with Edwin and own up to trying to make a canoe is a huge step for Cole. Cole now understands that lying won’t get him anywhere. If he wants Edwin to continue to help him, he needs to be honest with Edwin, just as Edwin has been honest with him. Giving Cole permission to carve the totem pole is another way that Edwin can introduce yet another ritual into Cole’s life. Like the ancestor rock, carving also forces Cole to reflect on what he’s learned—but this time, what he learned from animals.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon