When Emily Patterson arrives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and children in 1862, she finds herself worlds away from Bath, Maine, the staunchly pious township of her birth. Up the remote reaches of Vancouver Island's Alberni Canal, Emily learns much about self-reliance in a fledgling milltown where pioneer loggers and the native Tseshaht community share an often tempestuous co-existence. In search of their ideal homestead, the Pattersons next travel to Oregon's fertile Willamette and Columbia River regions, confronting both joy and tragedy along the way. After many years, their quest finally leads them to Burrard Inlet, where the sawmilling communities of Hastings Mill and Moodyville duel for lumber supremacy. Emily gains wide recognition amidst the hard-living mill workers for her extraordinary nursing skills, self-taught from sheer necessity over the course of her nomadic life. In a time when the nearest doctor is several hours of travel away, Emily is called upon day or night to deal with any medical situation, be it removing a splinter, treating a cough or preparing a body for burial.