Touching Spirit Bear

by

Ben Mikaelsen

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Touching Spirit Bear can help.
Edwin is the Tlingit elder who facilitates Cole’s banishment on a remote Alaskan island after Cole assaults Peter. He’s a potbellied, quiet man with a look that seems consistently calm and knowing. Edwin gets on Cole’s bad side immediately by forcing Cole to put his clothes on inside out to show shame, acting unafraid of Cole, and refusing to rise to any of Cole’s bait. Even more irritatingly, Edwin insists that Spirit Bears are more dignified than some people, something that Cole finds offensive. Edwin also makes Cole feel insignificant by insisting that he’s part of a much greater circle of life and needs to respect nature and animals. Despite their bad start, Cole is thrilled to see Edwin when Edwin and Cole’s parole officer, Garvey, return to the island to discover that the Spirit Bear mauled Cole. Months later, when Cole is recovered and attends his first Circle Justice meeting, Edwin flies in from Alaska to attend and makes the case to the disbelieving Circle members that Cole has changed and should be allowed to continue to change. Once he and Garvey convince the Circle to return Cole to the island, Cole’s thoughts on Edwin begin to change. Though Edwin remains quiet—at times, maddeningly so—he also introduces Cole to several rituals he can perform to gain control over his anger. He shares that he was also banished on the island as a young person, and that these rituals helped him. However, Edwin wasn’t able to help the person he hurt, which is why he now helps Cole. By withholding information, and instead simply giving Cole the space and the tools he needs, Edwin is able to force Cole into making a number of intellectual leaps on his own. Though Edwin believes that Cole has changed and turned himself around, he becomes increasingly distant and angry as Peter’s mental health deteriorates as a result of Cole’s violence. He does, however, arrange for Peter to come to the island so he can attempt to heal.

Edwin Quotes in Touching Spirit Bear

The Touching Spirit Bear quotes below are all either spoken by Edwin or refer to Edwin. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the HarperCollins edition of Touching Spirit Bear published in 2002.
Chapter 2 Quotes

“Other animals come here for water, too,” Edwin said. “How would you feel if a bear made its den beside the stream?”

Cole shrugged. “I’d kill it.”

The potbellied elder nodded with a knowing smile. “Animals feel the same way. Don’t forget that.” [...] “You aren’t the only creature here. You’re part of a much bigger circle. Learn your place or you’ll have a rough time.”

Related Characters: Edwin (speaker), Cole Matthews (speaker)
Related Symbols: Circles, Spirit Bear
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

Cole’s gaze wandered in a big circle around him. All of the landscape, the air, the trees, the animals, the water, the rain, all seemed to be part of something bigger. They moved in harmony, bending and flowing, twisting and breathing, as if connected. But Cole felt alone and apart. His soaked clothes chilled his bones. The hard ground pushed at his wounded body like a big hand shoving him away.

Related Characters: Cole Matthews, Edwin
Related Symbols: Circles, Spirit Bear
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

Frantic, Cole struggled to fly, but he couldn’t escape the nest. All he could do was open his beak wide and raise it upward toward the sky, the action a simple admission that he was powerless. There were no conditions, no vices, no lies, no deceit, no manipulation. Only submission and a simple desire to live. He wanted to live, but for that he needed help; otherwise his life would end in the nest.

Related Characters: Cole Matthews, Garvey, Edwin
Related Symbols: Spirit Bear
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 15 Quotes

“I just know that my dad’s not going to ever come back to say he’s sorry. Even if he did, he couldn’t change what he did. He couldn’t take away all the memories.”

“So you think this is all his fault, huh?” asked Edwin.

“No,” said Cole, his voice trembling. “Mom said his parents beat him up, too. I don’t know where the anger all started. All I know is I don’t ever want to have a kid and beat him up.”

Related Characters: Cole Matthews (speaker), Edwin (speaker), Garvey, Cole’s Mom, Cole’s Dad
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 17 Quotes

So, unless I go somewhere and freeze every morning, I’ll keep getting mad, huh?”

Edwin smiled but shook his head. “You only look at the left end of the stick and at the cloudy sky now because your experiences in life have made that a habit. Happiness, like anger, is also a habit. You learn to be happy one day at a time. But habits change hard. This pond will help you.”

Related Characters: Cole Matthews (speaker), Edwin (speaker)
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 20 Quotes

“I just realized that I’m not a bad person. Nobody is,” he said. “People are just scared and do bad things. Sometimes people hurt each other trying to figure things out.” Cole gazed into the flames. “I hate what Dad does to me, but he must be just as scared as I am. He doesn’t want to be mean; he just doesn’t know any better.”

Related Characters: Cole Matthews (speaker), Edwin, Garvey, Cole’s Dad, Peter Driscal
Page Number: 168
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 24 Quotes

“There’s still something missing. It isn’t enough to be sorry and forgive. Somehow I have to figure out a way to help Peter. Until then, I’ll never be able to carve anything in the blank space. That’s what I had to discover before I could heal, wasn’t it?”

Edwin smiled slightly and nodded. “How to help Peter heal is something that will haunt you and stay in your thoughts like a sliver under your skin. The harm you did to him will fester and pain you all your life unless you’re able to make up for it.”

Related Characters: Cole Matthews (speaker), Edwin (speaker), Peter Driscal
Page Number: 196
Explanation and Analysis:

“How is Garvey?” Cole asked excitedly.

“He said that last week Peter tried to commit suicide.”

“Suicide!” Cole caught his breath. “Why?”

“If someone is treated as if his life is worthless, he begins to believe it.”

“But his life isn’t worthless,” Cole protested.

Edwin stood, and with one motion opened the door and flung the last of his hot chocolate outside.

“I never told him he was worthless,” Cole argued.

“Smashing his head on a sidewalk is a funny way of telling Peter he’s valuable.”

Related Characters: Cole Matthews (speaker), Edwin (speaker), Peter Driscal
Page Number: 201
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Touching Spirit Bear LitChart as a printable PDF.
Touching Spirit Bear PDF

Edwin Character Timeline in Touching Spirit Bear

The timeline below shows where the character Edwin appears in Touching Spirit Bear. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1 
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
...of the boat. Cole doesn’t trust Garvey; he doesn’t trust anyone who doesn’t fear him. Edwin, a quiet Tlingit elder, sits in the back. When Cole met Edwin at their last... (full context)
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Feeling a sudden wave of anger at Edwin, Cole spits so that the wind carries it back and it lands squarely on Edwin’s... (full context)
Chapter 2
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...at the boxes filled with supplies—food, rain gear, and even schoolwork. A few weeks ago, Edwin built a one-room shelter on the island for Cole. He described it as a healing... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
...he can only trust Garvey if Garvey is afraid of him. Back in the present, Edwin guides the boat to a bay. Cole spots the shelter and thinks that Garvey and... (full context)
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Edwin points out Devil’s Club, a spiny, dangerous plant that will cause infection if touched. He... (full context)
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Cole insists that Edwin is crazy, but Edwin continues unperturbed. He says that there’s a book on edible plants... (full context)
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...Garvey tells Cole to not waste his chance, and Cole angrily snaps for Garvey and Edwin to leave. They promptly get back in their boat and head out to sea. Cole... (full context)
Chapter 6
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...best to leave tomorrow—he doesn’t want to swim at night. He wishes he could see Edwin and Garvey’s faces when they find him gone. (full context)
Chapter 7
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...and Cole wishes he could wait for better weather. He needs to leave today, or Edwin and Garvey will return to check on him. Cole settles in under the at.óow to... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...moon and wonders whether he wants to live or die. He remembers that Garvey and Edwin had both said something about a circle, but he can’t remember what. Cole looks around... (full context)
Chapter 10
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...awful that maggots will eat the bodies, he also thinks that this is the cycle Edwin talked about. Cole knows that dying is part of living and knows that he’ll die... (full context)
Chapter 12
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...blanket over him, but it’s not the at.óow. He realizes he’s in the bottom of Edwin’s boat and that Garvey is leaning over him. The bouncing motion of the boat makes... (full context)
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...and tuck him in. When Cole opens his eyes, looking for the at.óow, Garvey and Edwin step forward. Garvey says plainly that the fallen tree must’ve gotten Cole, but a Tlingit... (full context)
Chapter 13
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...damage and apologizes to Cole, but Cole whispers that it was his fault. Garvey and Edwin exchange a glance, and then Cole closes his eyes. Rosey returns with bandages to clean... (full context)
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...another painkiller and brings a bag of Cole’s clothes with the at.óow on the top. Edwin arrives with two boys Cole’s age to help carry Cole to a van, which takes... (full context)
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...his parents and jail time. Cole says that whatever happens, he’s done being angry, but Edwin insists that anger doesn’t disappear—it just lessens. He asks about the Spirit Bear. Cole says... (full context)
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...never been strong enough to just tell the truth. He insists he’s telling the truth. Edwin and Garvey step away and once he’s alone, Cole pulls the white fur out of... (full context)
Chapter 14
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...when Cole is alone to think through his mauling, his fear, and his anger—which, as Edwin predicted, isn’t gone. Cole also remembers the baby sparrows and touching the Spirit Bear at... (full context)
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...told his story—she doesn’t know about the baby birds, his loneliness, or the Spirit Bear. Edwin walks in and joins the circle. Then, the Keeper asks Cole to explain himself. (full context)
Chapter 15
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Edwin asks Cole to help him with a demonstration. He points out a line in the... (full context)
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...how they can be sure and mentions Cole’s claim that he saw a white bear. Edwin asks Cole if he saw a Spirit Bear. Cole realizes that if he lies, the... (full context)
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...he does, though, his right arm remains weak. The Circle continues meeting without Cole and Edwin stays in Minneapolis to attend them. Edwin stops by a few times but says little.... (full context)
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...this changes anything, but he knows now that his dad is never going to apologize. Edwin asks if Cole thinks this is his dad’s fault, but Cole says he knows it’s... (full context)
Chapter 16
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...the last month, Cole sold all his sports gear to purchase the supplies he’ll need. Edwin tells Cole to get out and steady the boat. The water is freezing; Cole thinks... (full context)
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Annoyed, Cole eyes the boat, but he decides to stay. When Edwin and Garvey return two hours later, Cole is putting up the tent. Edwin wants to... (full context)
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...asked of it—it fed him. Garvey asks Cole to pass him one, and he and Edwin hum as Garvey patiently cooks the hot dog. He pours three glasses of water, cuts... (full context)
Chapter 17
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Edwin shows Cole how to suspend their coolers of food so the bears can’t get it... (full context)
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Almost as soon as Cole falls asleep, Edwin shakes him awake. It’s still dark, but Cole stumbles into his clothes and out of... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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When Cole then asks why bother trying, Edwin asks Cole if the sky is sunny or stormy. Cole looks around and says it... (full context)
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Smiling, Edwin says that when he himself was banished, he came to the pond to deal with... (full context)
Chapter 18
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When Cole and Edwin get back to camp, Garvey is sipping coffee. He points out whales, and Edwin says... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Edwin paces around the fire, pretending to dive and duck like a whale. Ten minutes later,... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Cole looks back after several hundred feet, but Edwin tells him to pretend the rock is his ancestors. Every step that Cole takes up... (full context)
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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... (full context)
Chapter 19
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As Cole smears lotion on his blisters, he points across the bay to something. Edwin says it’s a wolf and Garvey announces that they’ll dance the wolf dance later. Cole... (full context)
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...that he said he was sorry and begs them to not take him back, but Edwin stands and says they’re done. He insists that Cole’s words don’t mean anything. Tomorrow, Cole... (full context)
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Edwin and Garvey head for the tent. When Cole asks about the wolf dance, Garvey tells... (full context)
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As Cole hikes, he wonders if Garvey and Edwin will really take him back to Minneapolis. He’s so lost in his thoughts that he... (full context)
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...from the cold, but his joints don’t ache. Cole breathes deeply and stretches, curious how Edwin figured all this out. He grabs the rock and hikes up the hill, imagining that... (full context)
Chapter 20
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
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...he really just saw the Spirit Bear. He wonders if he should tell Garvey and Edwin; they might think he’s making it up. Neither of them speaks as Cole joins them... (full context)
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...works hard all day, and by evening, all that’s left is to install the stove. Edwin and Garvey inspect the cabin and tell Cole what else he needs to do before... (full context)
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Edwin says he felt painfully lonely at first, but eventually he felt peaceful. When it’s dark,... (full context)
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Cole sleeps well, and in the morning, both Edwin and Garvey get up with him. Cole leads the way to the pond, feeling proud,... (full context)
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Edwin shows Cole how to install the stove, and then he and Garvey pack up. Garvey... (full context)
Chapter 21
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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When Edwin visits next, Cole asks why he hasn’t seen the Spirit Bear. Edwin suggests that the... (full context)
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Edwin turns his attention to the totem. He examines the eagle and then the tapered end,... (full context)
Chapter 22
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Cole carves all afternoon after Edwin leaves, even stretching a tarp so that he can escape the rain. After he visits... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 24
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...shows he’s sorry and knows how to forgive, but he can’t think of anything. When Edwin visits, Cole announces that he danced the dance of anger. Cole tells Edwin that he... (full context)
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Throughout the summer, Edwin visits infrequently and never stays long. He acts as though something bothers him. Though he... (full context)
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...to think about his loneliness. He thinks about his parents, Garvey, and Peter—who, according to Edwin, is growing more depressed. Cole’s anger returns more often, though he tries to quell it... (full context)
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Near the end of March, Edwin arrives and acts like something is wrong. Cole helps carries supplies to the cabin and... (full context)
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...to empty his mind. He carries the ancestor rock and then hears the buzz of Edwin’s boat engine. (full context)
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...races back to camp as fast as he can, slipping in the stream. He finds Edwin sitting in the cabin. Edwin tells Cole to put dry clothes on and then says... (full context)
Chapter 25
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Edwin immediately shoots down Cole’s insistence that Peter come to the island. Cole argues that Peter... (full context)
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Before Edwin leaves, he asks if Cole would stay on the island longer in order to help... (full context)
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Once everyone is ashore, Edwin leads them to the fire pit and starts a fire. Peter pulls a hunk of... (full context)
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...pole. Though Cole tries to evade Garvey’s questions about the empty space at the bottom, Edwin tells Cole to tell the truth. Cole says that his dad beats him, but he... (full context)
Chapter 26
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...can’t believe he ever wanted people to feel that way. When Cole returns, he finds Edwin and Peter’s parents saying goodbye to Garvey and Peter. Edwin privately explains to Cole that... (full context)
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Cole remarks sadly that Peter is very afraid, so Edwin advises Cole to be patient. Mr. Driscal asks Cole for a private word. Up near... (full context)