Chapter 14 begins with Brian thinking about the various mistakes he has made, and how serious they can turn out to be. After the plane flew by and he became the new Brian, he learned immediately the knowledge that drives all creatures in the forest: food is everything. He learned this in the middle of the night, when a skunk came into his shelter, unafraid of fire, and dug up his store of eggs. He foolishly throws a clump of sand at the skunk to get it to leave, but this makes the skunk spray, which is horrifying and blinds Brian for two hours. The smell has lasted, even weeks later.
This was how Brian learned that it is necessary to protect one’s food. The skunk had eaten all of his eggs, and he realized that he needed to make a better, safer shelter. He blocked his cave off with heavier logs and wove long branches into them to make a tight wall. He also wove a tight door of willows that he could secure closed. This would block out any small animals, like skunks, from getting in.
After this, he continued his never-ending quest for food. He needed to find a place to store food, rather than just continuously hunt it, in case he got hurt or sick and could not move around. Unwilling to store it in his shelter for fear of attracting animals, he made a food shelf on the stone above it. But his only food aside from berries so far was fish, and those he could not store. Instead, he constructed a fish trap out of rocks, luring the fish into an enclosure and weaving a gate to keep them from moving into other parts of the lake. He could then spear the fish in one place.
Brian notes that aside from marks he makes in the stone of his shelter, he keeps track of time not by number of days, but by the events that happen. He then recounts some major events that have happened over his time in the forest. First is the day of First Meat. Craving meat rather than fish, he decided to try catching foolbirds, or the clumsy birds that are everywhere in the forest. He at first had trouble locating them before they flew away from him, but then he learns its shape and takes careful note of it so that he can find it when it is camouflaged, rather than just looking for its colors or feathers. He tried with his bow over and over, and then began to use his spear; finally, he caught one.
It was a challenge to pluck the bird and clean it, but he managed it. He took the feathers and insides down to his fish trap to feed them and attract more fish. He constructed a forked holder on which to cook the bird, and no food had ever tasted as good to him as that first bite.
He thinks of other first days: First Arrow Day, when he used bird feathers to make an arrow that would fly correctly to shoot foolbirds. Then there was First Rabbit Day, when he managed to shoot one of the rabbits and eat that. But despite that he is able to find food now, there are still some terrifying events, too. After shooting a bird, he goes to the lake to wash blood off of his hands and all the sudden a moose comes charging out of the forest at him, bowling into him and throwing him into the water. She almost drowns him, and seriously injures him, and he has to wait in the water and play dead until she disappears.
That night, his ribs in terrible pain from the moose attack, he hears a sound. It is the wind of an approaching tornado, and it throws him into his shelter and tears through his campsite, destroying his fire, his tools, his bed, and his food. Brian is upset at his terrible luck, but unlike he had with the passing search plane, he knows now that he is not defeated and he can rebuild. He is much more optimistic than he was when he was the old Brian. When he goes outside to survey the damage, he sees that the wind has brought the tail of the airplane back up to the surface. He thinks of the pilot's body still in there, and wishes for him to have rest forever.
Paulsen continues the style of having Brian look back on events that have happened over his weeks in the forest and speak about them in past tense, rather than telling things as they happen in present tense. This gives readers the sense that Brian is looking back with new wisdom, armed with the knowledge he has gleaned from the experiences he has had. It also creates the feeling that Brian is teaching us; more than just transcribing what has happened to him, he is reiterating the lessons he has learned to readers, who may be able to learn something from them, too.
Paulsen's repetition technique also continues, this time with the word "mistakes." This is an important thing to repeat, because both Brian and readers must constantly be reminded that out in the forest, mistakes are a part of life. Mistakes will always happen, even when things seem to be going well, and it is important to understand how to react from them and ultimately learn from them. In many ways, mistakes are Brian's key to survival.
The important realization that Brian has—food rules everything, and every creature in the forest is constantly in pursuit of food—contrasts this natural world with the manmade one in which Brian has spent most of his life. In city life, food is enjoyment: a supplement to a life lived for other purposes as well. In the wild, food is everything, and creatures spent their entire lives in pursuit of it. Goals and motivation in the forest vs. in the city are extremely different, something Brian learns quickly when responding to his body's needs.
Brian creates a new notion of time, further separating his forest life from the city world outside, where people keep calendars and based their lives around strict scheduling. Here, time is measured only in significant events. Paulsen capitalizes these events—First Meat, First Arrow Day—in order to show how important they are to Brian. It is almost like Brian is writing a new history; if the events of Brian's forest experience were written about in a history textbook, these ones would be capitalized, the way we capitalize famous conventions, war battles, or other events in our own textbooks.
Brian is now fully aware of the difference between old Brian, the one who wanted to die after the search plane passed, and new Brian, the one who accepts mistakes and strokes of bad luck as inevitable, learns from them, and keeps moving on. Even though the tornado is devastating, Brian reacts to it with optimism, confident in his ability to rebuild and start over again. He has juggled so many problems over the course of his weeks there, and these experiences have made him surer of himself and his ability to survive.
The brief sight of the plane tail coming up out of the lake following the tornado was clear foreshadowing. As Brian has done with countless other things in his environment, he will come up with a way to use that plane to his advantage. His wishing the pilot eternal rest is the only brief moment of religious experience present in this book; even though he has suffered and came close to death, Brian has not prayed or mentioned any belief in God. His only spiritual moment is wishing this pilot peace in death, even though the pilot's terrible death was what got him into this situation in the first place.