Cole swims as hard as he can and pauses to look back. He can’t believe it—he hasn’t gone anywhere. Cole realizes his mistake: the tide is coming in. His legs begin to cramp, and Cole panics as the tide brings him to shore slowly. He flails and hits his frozen feet on rocks until he gives up and lets the water carry him to land. Cole drags himself up the beach, where he lies still and can barely think. He knows he needs to get warm and remembers flames, but he can’t find them. His legs refuse to hold him, so Cole drags himself along. The cold makes it hard to think, but Cole can remember flames. He finally collapses someplace that feels oddly warm and realizes that he’s totally alone. This scares him.
Cole’s experience trying to swim away is an early indicator that he can’t actually control the natural world. The tides come in and out whether he pays attention or not—and the tides can either help him or they can make his swim difficult and dangerous. Now that Cole is back on shore, he has to deal with the consequences of having burnt his shelter down. He doesn’t have anywhere warm to recover from his swim, and he thus has to accept that he’s not match for the natural world.
Cole wakes before dawn. Everything hurts. He can almost remember burning everything and swimming away. He wakes again after dawn and realizes that he’s lying in the ashes of the burnt shelter. He can stand, but his aching body is scraped and bleeding. About a quarter mile away, Cole notices a white bear—a Spirit Bear. They’re not supposed to live here. It stares at him. Cole thinks it has no right to stare—it’s not dignified or honorable. He hurls a stone at it, but the bear seems unafraid. Angry, Cole looks for a weapon. He finds the hunting knife, but when he turns back around, the bear is gone.
The appearance of the Spirit Bear—which is supposed to live much farther south—reinforces that the natural world doesn’t make logical sense, especially to a person who thinks of himself as all-powerful. Because the bear turns everything Cole thinks he knows about the natural world upside down, he greets it with anger and with a desire to dominate it. This shows how much Cole’s anger blinds him to reality, given that bears are obviously dangerous and can easily overpower people.
Cole catches sight of the at.óow when he turns back around. It’s still not burnt. Cole throws it around his shoulders and finds his clothes. He doesn’t regret burning everything or hurting Peter. All of this is someone else’s fault, and Cole knows he’ll get revenge someday. He especially wants to get revenge against Peter’s lawyer, who insisted at the Healing Circle that Cole was dangerous and untrustworthy. Other people echoed her, and then Cole’s dad said that he and Cole’s mom have always wanted what’s best to him. Cole interrupted to say his dad was lying—his dad only drinks and whips him.
The fact the at.óow somehow survived the blaze symbolically suggests that even if Cole spurns everyone’s attempts to help him, those attempts can still make a difference. Indeed, the at.óow may be the only thing that keeps Cole alive, now that he’s burnt the shelter and all his supplies. His anger keeps him from recognizing this, though. Turning to thinking about revenge is much easier, especially when he has an easy scapegoat in Peter’s lawyer.