Chapter 14 Summary

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Small mistakes made in the city can usually be rectified, but the same mistakes made in the wilderness can quickly lead to disaster. Brian learns an important lesson early in his forced sojourn—in the forest, “food is...everything”—but the way in which he learns it almost kills him.

One night, Brian is awakened by a sound or perhaps a smell. Near the fire, completely undeterred by the smoke or by Brian himself, a skunk is digging for the buried turtle eggs. Brian at first almost smiles at the sight of the industrious little creature, but then he remembers that the eggs are his food and grabs a handful of sand and throws it at the skunk, hoping to scare it away. The skunk immediately retaliates by spraying Brian with “a direct shot aimed at his head.” The smell is “devastating” and the corrosive substance sears Brian’s eyes, blinding him.

Brian screams and stumbles out of the shelter and down to the lake, trying desperately to clear his eyes. He is unable to see at all for almost two hours, and he is terrified that the damage might be permanent, which will mean the end for him. Meanwhile, back at the shelter, the skunk eats all of the remaining eggs, unconcerned with the havoc it has created for Brian.

Fortunately, as the full effect of the spray wears off, Brian’s sight is restored, but the pain in his eyes persists for weeks and the smell that permeates just about everything does not go away for more than a month. Brian learns the hard way that he must always protect his food and have a shelter that offers security not only from the elements but from predators that would take his food from him. He realizes that he has been remiss in not fortifying his shelter, and the next day he takes steps to rectify his mistake.

Brian builds a stronger wall across the opening to the shelter out of heavy pine logs anchored in the dirt and held together with tightly woven branches. He also fashions a door that can be secured and an enclosed shelf high off the ground on which to store his food. Having learned his lesson, Brian takes his time and does the job right; he works for three full days before the shelter is rebuilt to his satisfaction.

When his reinforced dwelling is finished, Brian turns his attention to another problem—although he now has a place to store food, he has no food to store. The berries will soon be gone, and he worries about what he will do if he is ever “laid up temporarily” and is unable to hunt or fish. He thinks about the hundreds of little fish that gather so quickly by the shore to eat when he puts the waste from his meals back into the water, and he wonders if he might be able to trap them. Brian spends an afternoon making “a large pen for holding live fish” out of rocks. He is elated when “thirty or forty small fish” congregate in the enclosure, which he then secures with a gate made of willows woven carefully into a fine mesh.

Brian considers finding a way to store fish to eat later “a major breakthrough.” He is proud of himself for making sure to “think ahead.”

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Chapter 13 Summary


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