Sylvia is a young girl who has left a crowded industrial town to live with her grandmother on a beautiful, remote farm near the sea. Sylvia is fearful of people, but living on the farm allows her to embrace the beauty and the solitute of nature. Sylvia feels "as if she never had been alive at all before she came to live at the farm."
When a young hunter enters Sylvia's life, she slowly overcomes her shyness and begins to like him. She feels the stirrings of first love. The hunter seeks a specific white heron that he wants to kill, stuff, and add to his collection. Thinking that Sylvia might know the location of the heron's nest, he offers her ten dollars to help him. Sylvia wants to please him and to earn the money, which her grandmother needs.
Sylvia knows of a great pine tree that towers over all the forest, so tall it serves as a landmark for miles and miles, by sea and by land. Sylvia had climbed trees in the woods, but she had never attempted to climb the huge pine, a very dangerous endeavor.
Early one moring before dawn, Sylvia climbs to the top of the pine so that she can look down and survey the forest below to discover the heron's nest. Once she finds the nest, she can show the hunter its location. However, once Sylvia finds the white heron and shares its beautiful world for a little while, Sylvia cannot tell where the heron lives. She cannot help the hunter destroy the beautiful bird.