Receiving his father’s blessing to take leave of the family farm in Vermont, Joseph Wayne heads to California to begin a life of homesteading. He arrives in California in the spring of 1904. It is within a valley between the Salinas and the Pacific known as Nuestra Senora that Joseph Wayne sets to work on a detailed record of his adventures in homesteading.
Two weeks after his arrival, the lumber arrives. In response to the delay, Joseph is told of earlier times in the 1880s when there was a dry season that seems to indicate the wisdom of preparing for regular onsets of drought. Meanwhile, work continues on building the home and eventually the frame is completed. Not long after comes word that Joseph’s beloved father has passed away, instilling in Joseph the belief that the spirit of his father has become one with a truly spectacular oak tree.
The brother of Joseph help him to expand the boundaries of his homestead to an impressive 640 acres. As time passes on, the animals begin to reproduce and grow. Juanito and Alice get engaged and there is more information gathered about those drought years from the 1880s.
Joseph is introduced to Elizabeth who becomes a teacher and they commence a courtship. That includes a buggy ride and a tree climb from which she surveys the pine glade. Eventually, they get married in Monterey. A ride aboard the locomotive to King City results in a strange situation in which they must take a carriage to the Nuestra Senora pass but Elizabeth exhibits great reluctance to enter. After finally arriving back on the homestead, they discover that Juanito has stabbed Benjy and has taken off for the pine glade. Joseph rides off to the glade and meets up with Juanito, but rejects the opportunity to stab him.
Following Benjy’s funereal, Jennie heads off back east. Meanwhile, a pregnant Alice has arrived to stay with Elizabeth. Following a week of heavy rain, the grass is growing robustly by Thanksgiving and the crop are thriving in the garden. Old Juan arrives with prediction of a fiesta come the New Year and Martha joins with a prediction of rain arriving for the festival. Joseph takes to talking to the spirit of his father he believes lives inside the big oak tree and Elizabeth is showing signs of being pregnant.
Spring delivers multiple bounties, including the delivery of Elizabeth’s baby boy which Joseph wants to place into the arms of the oak tree, but is dissuaded of doing by Burton who thinks that doing so is an act of pagan evil. Burton eventually takes his family to the Pacific Grove and Joseph comes to believe that something is not quite right with the oak tree.
The next fall brings no rain at all during November and December. On a ride to the ridge to take in a glorious view of the ocean, Elizabeth falls, breakds her neck and dies. Still no rain comes and Joseph learns he has to drive the cattle across the 100 miles to San Joaquin or else face losing them. Joseph and Thomas drive the cattle to the coast, the come across an old man with a peculiar predilection for making a sacrifice of diminutive animals when the sun sets each day. Joseph makes the decision to stay at the ranch, handing over his baby to Rama as the sun sets. After everyone else leaves the next day he movies to the grove.
On the road, 300 of the herd of the cattle die and meanwhile the stream recedes. When Juanito arrives, they decide to visit Father Angelo who confuses Joseph with also being a priest. Joseph rejects the church and has dinner with Juanito and Alice. When he heads back to the rock, he slits the throat of a calf to provide water for the moss. When his horse takes off on its own, Joseph then slashes his own wrists over the moss.
The rains almost immediately begin.