Chapter 19

In the morning Brian opens the survival pack to find many useful items, including a sleeping bag, a foam sleeping pad, a cookset, matches, lighters, a knife, a compass, a first-aid kit, a cap, and a fishing kit. Surprised to find a survivor rifle among the pack's contents, Brian dislikes it as he feels it separates him from the natural environment to which he has become accustomed. Although his daily patterns would become much easier with the use of a rifle, and with many of the tools in the kit, he feels attached to his old ways and to the self-sufficiency they represent. Brian notes his "up and down" feelings regarding the discovery of the survival pack. He then comes across an emergency transmitter and, attempting to turn it on with no evident success, Brian reasons that it had been broken in the crash. The survival pack also contains several freeze-dried food packets, which he determines to carefully ration after he feasts just once on a meal of his choice. He begins to prepare this feast with much anticipation when he hears the drone of an engine above him. The plane flies low and lands on the lake. The pilot emerges and reports to Brian that he had heard the transmitter signal. In saying this, the pilot slowly makes the connection that the searchers he had heard about were looking for Brian, who stands before him. Dumbfounded and initially unable to comprehend the situation, Brian simply says, "My name is Brian Robeson…. Would you like something to eat?"


Brian later learns that the man who rescued him is a fur buyer out to survey Cree trapping camps. Brian had lost a lot of his body weight since the crash, and he remains thin for years. Many of the changes Brian underwent in the wilderness seem permanent, such as his observant and thoughtful nature, and food never loses its wonder for him. Reporters become briefly interested in covering his story, but soon the attention wanes. Brian has many dreams in which he recalls his time in the woods, many pleasant. If Brian had had to survive the winter there, it would have been very difficult. While his parents react with such joy at knowing their son has survived, and even get back together briefly, they soon return to their respective homes. Although he repeatedly intends to, Brian never actually tells his father about "The Secret."


Brian's reactions to the contents of the survival pack provide an interesting commentary about the changes he has undergone since he left the civilized world. While his life in the wilderness presents innumerable challenges and each element of daily life involves an incredible amount of work, Brian has grown to embrace his completely self-sufficient lifestyle. While the rifle would make hunting and fishing faster and easier, these benefits do not tempt Brian to start using it. He has worked hard to develop his own methods of survival, and when he accomplishes something on his own, the fruits of his labor become all the sweeter. The rifle would also lend Brian an advantage over all the other creatures of the woods, and separate him from them. Because the use of a rifle enables a hunter to kill an animal from a long range, the hunter's knowledge of the animal becomes unnecessary. Brian has worked so hard to observe the animals' patterns and to familiarize himself with their appearance and sounds that he regards the rifle as an unappealing weapon that would negate his efforts. The "up and down" feelings that the survival pack create testify to the effects of the intrusion of technology on the natural environment. While Brian understands that the pack contains valuable tools that will enable him to live an easier life, the intrusion they represent disturbs his sense of harmony with the woods.

Brian's shock at his rescue, and his initial inability to understand it, speak to the changes he has undergone since the plane crash. At the beginning of his wilderness life, Brian held out constant hope for his rescue and sometimes even imagined he heard the drone of an airplane engine, only to be disappointed when he discovered his mind had been playing tricks with him. As the story progresses, however, Brian not only loses hope he will be rescued, but also considers his rescue less and less important or desirable. His reaction to his dialogue with the pilot of the plane also attests to the degree of his isolation in the woods. Since he has not seen another person for months and has interacted exclusively with the animals of the woods, he initially finds himself at a loss for words.

Gary Paulsen includes an epilogue to this novel as a means of shifting the narrative voice, which enables him to inform the reader of Brian's future. In an almost journalistic tone, this passage provides an objective account of the events following Brian's rescue. Paulsen does not recount Brian's thoughts and feelings as much as he simply describes the character traits that have become permanent as a result of his adventure. The lasting nature of these traits, specifically of his ability to be patient and observant, indicates that Brian's adventure has truly changed him forever. The qualities he demonstrates in the wilderness also have relevance in the civilized world.

Paulsen only briefly refers to Brian's decision never to tell his father of his mother's affair, although he tries several times he cannot do it. The reader must conjecture as to Brian's keeping of "The Secret." Perhaps he feels the knowledge will cause his father unnecessary pain. Perhaps he wishes to protect his mother from his father's possible hatred or resentment. Paulsen, as he does with many conclusions to his works, leaves this question open-ended. Paulsen's places this question in the very last line in the novel, leaving the reader with an intriguing puzzle.