Touching Spirit Bear notes
A flashback explains to us how Cole got to Alaska in the first place. A native of Minnesota, he had been in the juvenile justice system for quite some time, and his wealthy and well-connected parents usually would get him out of trouble with the law. Recently, however, Cole broke into a store illegally, but when he bragged about it to one of his classmates, Peter Driscal, Peter turned him in. In revenge, Cole beat Peter up very badly, causing Peter head trauma and a permanent speech problem. Cole was taken back into juvenile detention. When Garvey, his juvenile detention officer, proposes that he choose Circle Justice instead of the possibility of being tried in an adult court, Cole immediately starts looking into the option.
The group of three arrives on the island, and Edwin warns Cole that he could possibly die on the island if he doesn’t find food and keep warm in the winter. Cole seems unfazed and plans his escape. He is first told of the Spirit Bear that roams in these areas, and Cole says that if he saw the Spirit Bear, he would kill it. Edwin gives Cole an "at.óow," a Tlingit Indian blanket that symbolizes trust and friendship. As Edwin and Garvey leave, having set up the area for Cole, Cole begins to reminisce about how he had to feign his remorse to Garvey and to the members of the circle in order to get approval for Circle Justice. When the scene flashes back to the island, Cole is covering the entire shelter his parents and Garvey had provided for him in gas. He then lights a match and burns the shelter, a symbol of any attachment to those who he felt didn’t really care about him. As he sees everything go up in flames, he realizes the error of his rash choice.
As Cole sullenly stares into the burning flames, he begins to remember his relationship with Garvey. Cole explains to Garvey in this flashback scene how much he resents his parents, especially after their divorce. He reveals how they drink a lot and feel that nothing he does is good enough for them. When his father drinks, he hits Cole repeatedly and abuses him in a drunken rage. Back on the island, the fire is burning as brightly as ever, and Cole decides to swim to nearby islands in search of others who can give him a ride out of this wilderness.
Cole is still struggling to swim to another island in the freezing water. He recounts in his head the various circles that he had to participate in before heading off to the island. These include a “Healing Circle,” a “Circle of Justice,” a “Circle of Understanding,” and even a “Sentencing Circle.” Frustrated with so many circles, Cole protests to Garvey, who wisely responds, “Life is a circle.” The bulk of the chapter describes the “Hearing Circle,” which was organized in the public library with the input of the entire community. It is an interesting event where community members come and hold hands in a type of prayer group in order to ask for Cole’s healing and justice. Each member holds a feather in turn to speak and then passes it on to others in the group. Present are community members interested in improving safety, Cole’s parents who are bewildered about his situation, and Peter Driscal—the boy who Cole beat up—who is particularly distraught. For the first time, it seems that Cole is questioning why he is there.
The scene returns from the flashback of the Healing Circle back to the scene of Cole swimming away from the shore. Cole realizes how futile his efforts are when he gets a leg cramp and notices that the incoming tide is pushing him back to the shore. His legs hit the rocky bottom of the shore as he is washed up, and he collapsed on the shore, in pain and without shelter.
As he struggles to get up, he sees a white bear: the Spirit Bear. He was intimidated by how fearless the bear was, and he even threw a rock at it to see if it would get scared. However, the bear remains motionless until it suddenly...
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