Chapter 4 begins with Brian at last recounting the details of the Secret. He had been bike riding with his friend Terry, and they took a route past the mall on the way back. Near the mall, Brian spotted his mother sitting in a station wagon he did not recognize, beside a strange man he also had never seen before. Though he had witnessed many more occurrences of the Secret later, this one stands out in his mind the clearest.
Brian opens his eyes at last; he is at the edge of the lake, his feet in the water, in an excruciating amount of pain. He pulls himself out of the water and falls unconscious again, waking up eventually around dawn. He is still in pain, but after a quick assessment decides that nothing is broken. He realizes how lucky he is to be alive, and thinks of the pilot dead in the lake. He fluctuates between reality and imagination, not sure whether what just happened was real or not.
As the sun comes all the way up, suddenly hordes of mosquitoes swarm around him. He inhales them, coughs them up, cannot get away from them, and sits and suffers their bites until the sun is fully up and the mosquitoes disappear. Hurting even more now, he gets up to survey the area. The lake is shaped like an L, with a rocky ridge running alongside of it. He spots fish and beavers in the lake. However, he is still exhausted, so he falls asleep again, this time against a tree.
When he wakes up, he realizes that he is extremely thirsty. He does not know for sure whether the lake water is safe to drink. He decides to drink it anyway, but drinks far too much and gets sick. He thinks again about where he is and everything he knows. He assumes that planes will soon fly overhead, searching for him, and convinces himself that it will happen before long—that is, before he remembers how far he must have gone off course. In deciding his next move, he thinks about an English teacher he once had, Perpich, who always insisted on thinking positive and getting motivated. He assesses the things he has: his hatchet, his clothing, and his watch.
Brian thinks about making a shelter, but realizes that he needs to find food first in order to have the energy to do that. He thinks about wilderness television shows, and goes in search of a berry bush, all while thinking about home and how much he wishes he were there. He finds one surrounded by a cluster of birds, and, unable to believe it could be that easy, eats bunches of them. They are bitter and have pits, but he is so hungry that he cannot stop himself. After eating berries and bringing some back, he drags wood to the lake to build a wall to prop against a scooped out, sideways bowl in the rock ledge and make a shelter. With shelter and food found, he goes to sleep.
But he wakes in the middle of the night with his gut twisting, and the berries he ate make him so sick for more than an hour. Slightly delirious, he tries to go back to sleep and thinks of a memory of his mother kissing the strange man in the station wagon. He wakes again in the morning, feeling better but weak, and eats some more of the "gut cherries," as he has decided to call them. Sure that there must be better berries somewhere, he goes in search and finds some raspberry bushes.
As he is eating them, a black bear appears, eating as well. Brian slowly backs away towards the lake and his shelter, and the bear does not pursue him. Eventually Brian works up the courage to go back and gather more raspberries, and comforts himself with the knowledge that if the bear had wanted to hurt him, it would have. Instead, it had just gone about its own business.
These next few chapters detail Brian's first few days alone in the wilderness, attempting to find his way around and deal with what has occurred. These chapters are a combination of waking and sleeping, reality and imagination, as Brian's subconscious tries to make sense of the situation. The first days are the worst, but each day slowly gets better as Brian gets oriented in his new surroundings.
Over the course of the novel, Brian's skill and resourcefulness will certainly be important to his survival. But Brian himself recognizes that there is also an element of luck involved in the fact that he is still alive. He notes that if the plane had gone down at a different angle, he would have been dead. He is lucky in finding food to eat and a place to stay sheltered. It is a combination of luck and skill that keeps Brian Robeson alive, and his acknowledgement of this randomness allows him to keep a firm grasp on reality and keep moving forward, because he does not know how he might get lucky next.
Right now, Brian is in a transition period from the old, pre-crash Brian to the new Brian. He has not yet shed the mindset of his old life, and this is evident through his constant thoughts about the Secret. Holding this secret about his mother cheating on his father has taken a huge toll on him, and has played such a huge role in shaping the person he was before the crash. Now, Brian will slowly learn to shed this preoccupation with the Secret and focus on himself and his survival.
In this transition, the nature of the challenges Brian faces will change. Dealing with the Secret was a hugely emotional challenge for Brian, one that messed with his mind, his focus, and his certainty about his and his family's place in life. Now, here in the forest, he will face a different set of challenges. These are no less difficult, but they are much simpler. Now he has to focus on extremely basic needs like food, safety, and shelter. In the wilderness, Brian will be challenged in a new way, a nice respite from the emotional toll that the Secret has taken on him.
In beginning his quest for survival, Brian takes inspiration from a new influential figure in his life: his English teacher, Perpich. This is important because Perpich's teachings are the thing that motivates Brian to stop feeling sorry for himself and to start getting motivated to solve the problems at hand. Brian also thinks back to discussions with his friend Terry and various wilderness television-shows he has watched, drawing from widely different aspects of his life to find a way to survive. This is another example of his quick thinking and resourcefulness.
The scene with the bear is notable because it marks the beginning of Brian's becoming harmonious with nature. Because people like Brian live outside of nature, they often dismiss nature's creatures as being vicious and dangerous. Now, though, Brian is no longer an outsider—he is becoming part of the forest, and is thus beginning to understand the way nature synchronizes, and how all of its creatures live parallel lives with interests that are actually quite similar. The bear acknowledges Brian but does not attack him, thus accepting him as a part of this small slice of the natural world. Brian has been welcomed.