The short story "A White Heron" tells of a girl named Sylvia who lives with her grandmother in the woods of Maine. While bringing the cow home, she comes across a tall young man who is hunting for a rare white heron. He wants to kill it and stuff it for his collection. He offers what to Sylvia is a lot of money if she will help him find the bird. Sylvia is motivated to help—not only for the things that she can buy with the money but also because she finds the young man attractive. Sylvia climbs the great pine tree so that she can find the hidden nest of the white heron, but she also considers climbing it a great adventure.
There is symbolism in the act of Sylvia climbing the tree, because, when she gets to the top, she has what might be described as a transcendental experience. This means an experience that goes beyond the normal into the extraordinary, supernatural, or spiritual. She locates the hidden nest of the elusive white heron, but she also sees the sun rising over the gold-specked sea, the white sails of ships and two hawks flying as well as woodlands, farms, churches, and villages for miles into the distance. She almost feels as if "she too could go flying away among the clouds."
This experience has a profound effect upon Sylvia. Although her first impulse is still to tell the hunter where the heron is, by the time she gets back she has changed her mind. She realizes that she has had an epiphany, or an illuminating realization:
The murmur of the pine's green branches is in her ears, she remembers how the white heron came flying through the golden air and how they watched the sea and the morning together, and Sylvia cannot speak; she cannot tell the heron's secret and give its life away.