In the previous chapter, Brian had thought to himself that all the mistakes he had made in becoming his new self needed to be noted in his mental journal so he could tell his father how he had learned from each one. Now in this chapter, it occurs to him how much more different little mistakes are in this wilderness than they would be in the city. If he got hurt in the city, he could go to the emergency room for help, and if he ran out of food, he could buy groceries at a grocery store, but here, a sprained ankle could mean death and illness could mean starvation. He has also learned that the most vital knowledge of all, the knowledge that drives all creatures of the forest, is food, and food is everything.
The way Brian learns that food is all nearly kills him. One night, he hears the sound of something digging at his egg supply. It is a skunk, and he grabs a handful of sand and throws it at the animal. Immediately, the little animal lifts its tail and sprays Brian with a direct shot of scent less than four feet away. The effects within his little shelter are devastating. He stumbles outside, blinded by the scent in his eyes, screaming from the burning sensation, and throws himself into the water. He is completely blind for almost two hours and the pain that results lasts for nearly two weeks. Even a month later, the scent is still in his hair and clothes. He realizes he is paying the consequences of not protecting his food.
So Brian sets about making his shelter better by weaving the outer walls
tighter and making a door that only a bear could break down when it is
closed. Then, he has to figure out a way to store food that is high and
safe. There is a place up above the ledge that overhangs his shelter that
is inaccessible to wild animals, but it is also inaccessible to him. So,
then, he must build a ladder. He finds a dead pine with many branches
sticking out which proves perfect. He can climb it with ease even though
it rolls a little from side to side as he climbs. He even creates a door,
woven from the green willow branches, to cover his supply from sight.
Again, he himself allows a small moment of pride. The only problem now
is that there is no way to store fish. He doesn't have refrigeration to
keep it, and it would soon begin to smell and go bad. Then, Brian has
another moment of brilliance. After having woven the door for his storage
place on the rock face above him, he thinks it would be the perfect solution
at the lake. He can make a holding pen in the lake for live fish. He creates
a small enclosure along the bank and lures live fish into it with the
scraps from fish he has already killed. He has once again found a way
to overcome his mistakes.
This chapter presents the danger that Brian faces in the wilderness.
He makes the mistake of forgetting that a skunk fights back with a scent
that nearly blinds him. But every mistake he makes brings him greater
knowledge about how to deal with these dangers and leads him to prepare
for the future. Knowing that food is everything will help him prepare
for any illness that may make him incapable of finding food when he needs
it. His maturity keeps growing and growing.
The time in the wilderness passes with one day folding into another. Brian marks each day in the stone near the door to his shelter, but he measures real time in events, such as the day of First Meat. Even though he has plenty of fish now, he has begun to crave real meat. He knows there are many small animals around him - squirrels, rabbits and the little birds he calls foolbirds. However, they are making a fool out of him, because he hunts them, but can't figure out how to locate them. They stand so perfectly still and blend so well into their surroundings that he just can't see them. So he sets out one day, determined to find and spear one.
As he scares them out of their shelter, Brian notices that the birds
can be seen as a shape rather than feathers or colors. He has to look
for the outline of the bird instead. That becomes the key to his First
Meat day. He makes many attempts and just misses hitting them with his
bow and arrow. So he tries his fish spear by moving carefully at an angle,
side to side, back and forth, until he comes close enough to finally spear
one. Then, he learns how to clean the bird. He saves the tail feathers
for his arrows, and then after finding a forked stick and sliding the
gutted bird on a cooking stick, he finds a proper method to roast it.
He tries to eat it before it's completely cooked inside, and this reminds
him once again that everything in the wilderness is about patience - waiting
and thinking and doing things right. Finally, however, his patience is
rewarded, and Brian eats his First Meat. Not even the best hamburger,
all the fries in the world, the best malts - none of this tastes as good
as his First Meat.
The evolution of the new Brian continues. He finds a way to adapt to his environment and kill the food he craves - meat. It is yet another step in his maturation.
Cite this page:
Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on Hatchet".