Nature Impact on Cole

Touching Spirit Bear

About Cole

The protagonist of Touching Spirit Bear, Cole, is a terrible person. He acts out of anger instead of reason and logic, letting emotions take control of him. This leads him to make poor decisions that hurt him and those around him. One example of this is when Peter, a kid who snitched on him, was walking from school, Cole beat him senseless: “With anger that had been brewing all day, he attacked him and started hitting him hard in the face with bare fists,”(7). This shows how his emotions take control of him, especially anger. No person in their right mind would beat someone to the point where they have to be hospitalized. And with this anger every time something doesn’t go right for him he blames it on another instead of taking the fault himself. One example would be when he is in a detention center waiting to be trialed for beating Peter into a bloody pulp. He refused to do his schoolwork, so he was no longer allowed to watch TV. He was so angry about this that he started punching the wall to point where his knuckles bled: “He stared at his bleeding knuckles. Somebody would pay for this,”(22). Rather than taking the blame that it was his fault for hurting himself he tried to pin it out someone else, so he would have an excuse to take his anger out and get “revenge” on them. Cole is an angry control freak who blames everyone else for his problems.

Spirit Bear

When Cole’s crimes catch up to him he sentenced to be banished on a remote Alaskan island. There he sees a strange creature called the Spirit Bear. It is a black bear that is, for some strange reason, completely white. When Cole first hears about the Spirit Bear he says he is going to kill it. When he finally thinks he is ready to kill it and attacks the bear mauls him. The bear breaks his right arm and pelvis bone and leaves Cole against a tree to die. Then he sees some baby sparrows and their mother. Cole wanted to go up and hit the nest out of the tree because he thought that was what they deserved. Next a raging storm comes dropping rain and lighting from that the sky. This makes Cole feel helpless, a feeling he hates. But after the storm he remembers the baby sparrows and doesn’t see them anywhere: “Mustering all his strength, he raised his head, and with a weak and pinched voice he called into the darkened branches, ‘Are you okay?’,”(79). This shows how the Spirit Bear taught Cole how to feel empathy. With the Spirit Bear putting him into such a terrible position with Cole helpless and on the verge of death he learns how he might of made others feel that way. Enough for him to actually make sure birds he wanted to kill hours ago are okay. When Cole is finally rescued at one point Cole is by himself. He reflects on the hair he ripped from the Spirit Bear: “Deliberately he raised his hand and tossed the hair into the water,”(112). Cole does this because he is tired of trying to make people believe his lies with proof. But from then on he would let his words be his proof by becoming an honest person. So when Cole goes back to the island the second time he respects the Spirit Bear as even though it attacked him it allowed him to learn about himself.


Not only does he respect the Spirit Bear coming back to the island he learns interesting ways of relieving anger and he learns life lessons from Edwin, a Tlingit elder. One of the activities he learns is soaking. Soaking is going into a small pond that is quite cold and staying there until you feel your soak is over. Now this may not seem like a big deal it has quite the impact on Cole. This activity isn’t the sole one that changes Cole, but it’s the gateway to the other activities. When Cole finishes a soak one day, “He felt he discovered something, but wasn’t sure what. All he had done was sit in the cold water and try not to think, and yet that simple act made him feel so calm,”(164). What Cole discovered was how to achieve peace and calmness. The way he can do that is by interacting with nature, and luckily all the activities, like soaking, involve nature too. But with also this peace from soaking he learns how to keep from getting angry. But since soaking teaches this through self discovery the presence of others can make it feel strange. Cole notes this when soaking with Edwin and Garvey: “It wasn’t the same having others here,”(174). This shows that Cole has taken the pond to be his personal place because he had learned how to control his anger there. Soaking is a very important and personal activity for Cole.

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Cole's soaking pond is very cold letting his body become numb and his mind clear


Soaking isn’t only the other important activity to Cole dancing is another important part of nature that impacts him as well. When Cole sees an animal after dinner, around the campfire, he would do a dance of that animal. For example if he saw a whale one day he would do the whale dance around the campfire. Every time he dances he learns something from that animal. A very helpful animal is the eagle: “How could he remember to stay strong and proud, seeing everything in life differently from a distance,”(181) This shows how he learns from each animal. He sees from that animal’s perspective and learns about it. And if the animal teaches him something good he would strive to be like it, as shown with the eagle. Animal dances are very important, but not as important as the dance of anger. The dance of anger is very important as the dancer throws all their anger into a dance. The difference between actual anger and the dance is the dancer has a logical view rather than an emotional one. Cole learns something very important at the end of his dance: “‘I forgive you,’ he cried loudly. ‘I forgive you.’ Then, his energy totally spent, Cole collapsed to the ground,”(194). This quote shows how Cole learned forgiveness. He learned that no one chooses to be angry and that everyone who ever wronged him was probably just angry, so he forgives them. This is a big change because Cole was very good at holding a grudge, but now that he has learned to forgive he can finally start to heal from his anger. Dancing was a very important activity that helped completely change Cole’s personality, but dancing didn’t do it alone all the other parts of nature did it as well.

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Without doing the dances Cole would've not built his valued totem pole