Touching Spirit Bear


Ben Mikaelsen

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Touching Spirit Bear: Chapter 22 Summary & Analysis

Cole carves all afternoon after Edwin leaves, even stretching a tarp so that he can escape the rain. After he visits the pond the next morning, he washes his clothes. That afternoon, he tries to become invisible by bathing, putting on clean clothes, and rubbing ashes and cedar on himself. Cole hikes to a point and sits still. He sees other animals on the shore, but no bears. Cole continues to try to become invisible. One morning, as Cole sits in the pond, he sees a beaver swim close. He breathes deeply, and when the animal gets close, he reaches for it—but the beaver disappears. Cole regrets scaring the beaver and betraying its trust, and he thinks he’s done the same thing to people. He dances the beaver dance and realizes that beavers have “persistence, patience and ingenuity.” He carves a beaver head on his totem pole.
At this point, Cole believes that being invisible means becoming one with the landscape and scrubbing himself of everything that makes him human. Though this may be true to a degree, Cole’s experience with the beaver seems to tell a different story. When Cole isn’t focused on immediately identifying animals and coming at them in a predatory, human way, they’re far more willing to show themselves. It’s possible that being invisible has far more to do with Cole’s mindset and the manner in which he interacts with the natural world than the way he smells.
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The weather gets warmer, but the drizzle continues. Cole busies himself with chores and schoolwork. He looks for the Spirit Bear and tries to dance the dance of anger every night, but he can’t figure out what to put at the bottom of his totem—a spot he’s saving for an anger carving. Once, when Edwin visits, Cole frustratedly tells him that he can’t find the Spirit Bear. Edwin suggests that Cole might not be invisible yet and asks if Cole has danced the dance of anger. Cole pushes Edwin’s boat back out and helplessly watches him leave. He wonders if Edwin even cares and spends the rest of the day carving, wondering what will help him heal and how to become invisible.
Edwin seems to imply that Cole’s upcoming dance of anger and figuring out how to be invisible are related, which suggests that Cole will find new ways to see the world around him once he’s able to let go of his anger. The simple fact that Cole feels so abandoned and wonders if Edwin cares makes it clear that Cole isn’t yet ready to entirely ditch his self-serving ways—life is still all about him, especially when he’s frustrated and things are hard.
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Cole still feels angry most days for no reason he can identify. Despite this, he still can’t dance the dance of anger. One morning, after his morning ritual, Cole wonders why the Spirit Bear came so close when he was hurt and why the beaver got so close in the pond. Cole thinks he wasn’t invisible then. That night, he wakes up with a start. He knows how to be invisible.
It’s telling that as Cole puzzles through this mystery, he thinks about the Spirit Bear and the beaver. He knows now that he can look to the natural world to set an example and show him how he needs to do things; he accepts it as his teacher now.
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