In a semi-dream state, Brian vividly recalls every detail of the incident in which he discovers "The Secret." He had been riding his bike with his friend Terry when he saw his mother in a strange car, kissing a man with short blond hair. The hatred, anger, and astonishment that had swept over him at that moment return to him anew. Becoming conscious once again, Brian slowly absorbs the surrounding wilderness as the details of the plane crash rush back into his mind. His entire body aching from the injuries he has sustained during the crash, he falls quickly asleep. Awakening in a haze, Brian finds his survival of the plane crash almost unbelievable and quickly remembers the pilot's less fortunate fate. The mosquitoes in the area swarm around him and leave him with painful bites on every part of his exposed skin. Brian feels lucky to have survived the crash, and upon looking at the surrounding area, realizes how close a call it had been; he had just barely avoided a huge rock nearby. Contemplating the scenery and listening to the many sounds of nature surrounding him, he falls asleep once again.
Gripped by unbelievable thirst and hunger upon awakening, Brian drinks water from the lake while trying to grasp the fact that he has landed in this complete wilderness. Reassuring himself with the hope that the searchers will come that day to rescue him, Brian recalls his old English teacher Mr. Perpich, who had repeatedly emphasized to his students the importance of a positive attitude, and Brian uses this memory to motivate himself against despair. Brian experiences the profound silence of the woods, noting that such silence never exists back in the city. In a sudden wave of despair Brian suddenly remembers that he had bumped the wheel when reaching over for the pilot's headset. This action had most likely rerouted the plane, and Brian begins to accept the fact that the search planes might not rescue him for a few days. Sensing imminent panic, Brian works to calm himself, determined to find something to eat and to make a shelter.
Brian recalls the time he spent playing in the city park with his best friend Terry, who he suddenly wishes were with him. Together they had pretended they had gotten lost in the woods. They had built a lean-to for a shelter, which inspires Brian to seek out an ideal spot to build one himself. Finding a perfect overhang and gathering the materials to enclose the lean-to, Brian realizes the gravity of his weakness and hunger. He decides he must seek out food and compares the customary facility of finding food with the challenge of his current situation. Still dwelling on his parents' divorce, he decides he will tell his father "The Secret" as soon as he returns home. Brian finds some unfamiliar bright red berries to eat, which turn out to taste very bitter. However, left with little choice, he eats them until the pangs of hunger subside. Since Brian has no matches he must think hard about how to start a fire; for now, he works to improve his shelter by interweaving sticks into the walls. Although he feels sick from eating too many berries, sleep nonetheless comes to him.
In this part of the novel Paulsen introduces one of the primary themes in this work: the contrast between urban and wilderness environments, and the effects of this contrast on man. In Chapter 4, Brian, a city boy, marvels at the novelty of the natural environment. Paulsen writes, "The scenery was very pretty, he thought, but it was all a green and blue blur and he was used to the gray and black of the city, the sounds of the city. Traffic, people talking, sounds all the time—the hum and whine of the city." This contrast between city and wilderness also becomes clear in Brian's search for food, when he recognizes the conveniences of city life, which he had previously taken for granted.
As a result of this contrast between city and wilderness, and as a result of his lack of experience with nature, Brian initially uses knowledge he has gathered from the media to brainstorm about what action he must take. When he attempts to estimate the date of his rescue, he refers to searches he has seen on the local news and to movies he has seen about lost planes. When he considers the necessary approach to finding some food, he thinks, "What did they do in the movies when they got stranded like this? Oh, yes, the hero usually found some kind of plant that he knew was good to eat and that took care of it." Of course Brian quickly realizes that the rules of the civilized world often lose their relevance when applied to the natural world. As he gains more experience in the woods, his basis of knowledge shifts from the media to his own personal experience.
In these early stages of Brian's stay in the woods, he still remains very aware of his home and of the routines of the outside world. He remembers his friend Terry with fondness, and at one point tries to imagine what his mother would be doing at that moment, recalling her daily routine. He actively misses both his family and friends and the conveniences of the life he had led. As the story progresses, however, the reader sees that his thought patterns become increasingly self-contained and he no longer places emphasis on societal influences. Rather, the surrounding natural environment governs his behavior and his patterns.
Brian undergoes a period of disbelief when he awakes after the crash. The reality of the plane crash and of his presence in the middle of a harsh wilderness leaves him dumbfounded and overwhelmed. Finding few elements of certainty, he feels the need to establish those few facts of which he remains certain. He thinks, "My name is Brian Robeson and I am thirteen years old and I am alone in the north woods of Canada." These simple statements provide some reassurance to Brian at a time when he has no idea what action to take or what kind of hope to hold out for his rescue.
In these chapters Paulsen begins to employ with some regularity a certain stylistic nuance that persists throughout the book. That is, combining words that do not customarily go together and connecting them with hyphens. Such words include "hot-hate," "all-over pain," and "stagger-tripped." This unique technique provides the author with an opportunity to enhance his descriptive language.