A story of nineteen year old Eliza Meyers, her husband, Jacob, and their two young children migrating to an Iowa farm in 1858. Her dreams are shattered when their baby daughter dies of measles. Jacob is stricken with the disease leaving him physically and mentally disabled.
Arriving at the farm Jacob has homesteaded they find two unsavory characters have wintered in their home. Jacob’s friend, John Chardeau, a frightening and dangerous man, chases them away.
City bred, Eliza must summon the knowledge learned when Jacob spent long evenings explaining his modern farming methods to her. She fights nature’s wrath that damages her crops making her question her ability to complete her task. Her attraction to Chardeau, the gossip among the town’s women and a confrontation with an intruder further complicates her life.
Jacob’s health deteriorates. His death leaves Eliza alone with their son, Jamie, until a blizzard throws Eliza and a seriously wounded Chardeau together for the rest of the winter. By spring she realizes she is in love with him and accepts his marriage proposal.
At 23 Jamie inherits the wanderlust that plagued his father. Chardeau has been killed in the Civil War. Despite being left alone Eliza sends Jamie on his way. He settles in northern Iowa, falling in love with his employer’s daughter. His marriage is short lived when his wife dies giving birth to their daughter. Jamie raises Kathleen while working on his father-in-law’s farm. When she is thirteen, Jamie is killed by one of the farm’s prize horses.
When her aging grandparents cannot care for Kathleen, Eliza welcomes her granddaughter into her home. Eliza no longer looks for the “One Thing of Beauty” that gave her hope and courage through troubled times. She has found it in her memories and Erica.