The Spirit Bear that lives on the Alaskan island where Cole is sent symbolizes the power, beauty, and danger of the natural world—as well as Cole’s changing relationship to the natural world. At first, Cole sees the bear as a threat to his sense of power and control. This is why, when the opportunity presents itself, Cole attempts to attack and kill the Spirit Bear: in order to maintain his image of himself as the most powerful force in his world, Cole must destroy the one thing that seems unafraid of him. The Spirit Bear, however, has no trouble impressing upon Cole the power of nature when it turns the tables and nearly kills him. Following the attack, Cole must reckon with the fact that next to the natural world—which, he begins to see, includes the weather and the ocean, not just the bear that almost killed him—he’s powerless. Ultimately, this culminates in Cole’s shift to see the natural world as something to learn from and respect. Thus, when Cole empties his mind and takes the time to immerse himself fully in the world around him during his second stint on the island, the Spirit Bear often appears. As such, the animal comes to signify Cole’s oneness with nature.
Spirit Bear Quotes in Touching Spirit Bear
“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.”
Cole tried to gather his wits. The mauling didn’t make sense. In the past, everything had always been afraid of him. Why wasn’t the bear scared? A bear with half a brain would have turned tail and run. Instead, this dumb animal had attacked. Now it wandered out in the woods somewhere, the mauling little more than an inconvenience to its morning.
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.
Wincing, he wiped at his mouth with his left hand, then stared at the glistening red on his knuckles. It reminded him of the bear’s blood on the knife blade beside him. It also looked like the blood he had seen on the sidewalk after beating up Peter. The blood looked identical. This thought drifted about in his head but failed to gain meaning. Blood might look the same, but Peter was a loser and a jerk.
As Cole stared at the tiny bodies, sadness flooded through him. The sparrows were so frail, helpless, and innocent. They hadn’t deserved to die. Then again, what right did they have to live? This haunted Cole. Did the birds’ insignificant little existences have any meaning at all? Or did his?
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.