One of the first things Sam Gribley does when he finds the property is make a proper fire. He decides that "even if (he doesn't) have time to cut boughs for a bed, (he is) going to have cooked fish and a fire to huddle around". It takes Sam three tries, but he finally gets "a handful of dry grass on the glow in the tinder". That first fire is
"magic...out of dead tinder and grass and sticks (comes) a live warm light...it crack(s) and snap(s) and smoke(s) and fill(s) the woods with brightness...it light(s) the trees and (makes) them warm and friendly" (Chapter 3).
Sam next sets himself to the task of looking for food. He tries fishing, but the fish are not biting. Remembering that "a stream is supposed to be full of food...it is the easiest place to get a lot of food in a hurry", he examines the clear water and sees "the tracks of mussels in the mud". Taking off his clothes, he plunges into the icy water and collects "almost a pack of mussels" (Chapter 4).
Sam then goes out to explore the property. He makes a sketch of the farm on his road map, noting in particular where the hickory trees are. He will have hickory nuts in the fall, and from the branches of the trees he can make salt. Sam also notes that the land is very hilly, and that a stream runs through it, making it easy for him to fish and draw water. He then examines the old foundation of the Gribley house, and notes the locations of several apple and walnut trees (Chapter 5).
Once he has an idea of the lay of the land, Sam must create a shelter. He wants a house that cannot easily be found, as he does not want to be discovered and forced to go "back to where (he) belong(s)". He finds a huge old oak tree which he believes will be perfect for his purposes. Between "two of the flanges of the tree that spread out to be roots", there is a cavity. Sam scrapes at the rotting insides with his hands and digs "on and on", creating a space into which he can crawl and sit cross-legged, "cozy as a turtle in its shell" (Chapter 6).