It's 8:00PM on a lovely June evening and we're watching a young girl named Sylvia lead her "plodding" cow home (1.1).
This cow is a bit of a rapscallion—she always hides in the bushes whenever Sylvia calls for her, staying perfectly still so her bell won't ring. What a pro.
For her part, Sylvia just wishes that the cow would hurry it up because her grandmother is going to be mad that they're out so late.
Sylvia moved to her grandmother's farm from a "crowded manufacturing town" (1.2) when she was eight and fell in love with scenic countryside immediately.
In the present, her stroll is interrupted by the shrill sound of a whistle. Sylvia is well acquainted with the sounds of birds a'whistlin' and this sound definitely came from a person.
Her assumption is proven true when a young man approaches her with a gun slung over his shoulder. He tells her that he got lost during his hunting trip and could use a place to spend the night, and although Sylvia is frightened of him, she agrees to lead him home.
Sylvia's grandma, Mrs. Tilley, is outside when they arrive. The young man politely asks for a room for the night and a bit of fresh milk, and Mrs. Tilley feels the pull of her "long slumbering hospitality" (1.13) and goes into full-on homemaker mode.
When the man realizes that Sylvia knows her way around the woods, he becomes excited—he says that he collects birds... which actually he means that he shoots and stuffs them. Charming.
He wants to know if Sylvia has seen a white heron, a "queer tall white bird" (1.22) that would be the Holy Grail of his collection.
Sylvia has seen the white heron before, in the salt marshes beside the ocean, but it was such memorable experience that she holds her tongue.
The young man offers ten dollars if one of them can lead him to it. This is a lot of money for Mrs. Tilley and Sylvia.
Sylvia hangs out with the young man while he hunts the following day. Although she doesn't lead him to the heron, she seems to developing a little crush—her first—on the hunter.