Kevin Gearns is about to close his Trachis Bay, Nova Scotia inn for the season when an airplane crashes just off the coast of Trachis Island. Kevin runs the inn with his partner Douglas.
Now the rescue workers, the air safety officials and a profusion of others descend on the island, which has little public accommodation. Kevin reluctantly reopens the inn. Douglas joins the rescue efforts, while Kevin cooks, cleans and generally keeps the place going. One job is to clear out the library – he must remove all books that refer to disasters at sea or in the air.
The next wave is the families of the crash victims, shepherded by Mrs. McIntyre of the Red Cross. There's Ana Gathreaux, an ornithologist whose husband, Russell was headed for a major ornithology conference in Amsterdam. There's Diana Olmstead, fingering her prayer beads and praying for her sister. Perviz “Pers” Mansoor, from Iran, has lost much of his family in the unrest in his country, but he is saddened by the loss of his niece in the plane crash. Mr. and Mrs. Liang from Taipei lost their daughter. Mrs. Liang feels guilty because she would never come to the United States to visit Tien. It was a daughter's duty to come to her parents, she believed, so Tien died in the crash. Claartija DeJong and her brother lost their parents. Claartija wears her wildly dyed hair in a Mohawk cut, wears leather and has an eyebrow ring. There's the big Bulgarian, who speaks very little English. His wife, a cellist, was on her way to a concert in Amsterdam. There's a black couple from New York, an Italian family and a hasidic family. It's a sad collection of people; all have lost loved ones.
On a bus to the point nearest where the plane crashed, Ana finds herself sitting beside Pers Mansoor. He calls her attention to the beauty of the landscape. He accompanies her to the rocks at the edge of the point, away from most of the others. When she starts walking out on the rocks in the ocean, he tries to stop her. She slips and slides, but gets out when a Mountie orders her to.
The library at the old inn smells to Pars like the library in Norway, where he lived after being smuggled out of Iran. He drifts into a daydream of his young niece when he is shocked to see the silhouette of a young girl against the curtains on the doorway. But it is Claartija, also drawn to the quiet of the library.
A storm knocks out the electricity, and the guests all gather in the large common room in the main house. A generator serves the first floor of the house, while the cottages are left cold and dark. The gathering, surprisingly, helps to pull the guests out of their lonely grief. Mrs. Olmstead tells about the great New York power outage of 1965. Ana Gathreaux talks about the migrating birds they have been seeing all day. And then, the sound of a Chopin piano nocturne draws them all to the library, where there's an old piano Kevin had hoped to keep tuned. It's a bit off, but still the beauty of the pianist's expert playing comes through. The Bulgarian and his cellist wife had been, in their day, the toast of Eastern Europe. He has retired from performance, but his wife continued.
The next day the family members are taken to a warehouse at the Navy yard to see if they can identify the victims' possessions. The Taiwanese couple finds several items belonging to their daughter, and Mrs. Liang's tearful unwillingness to let any of them go forces the authorities to bend the rules and allow her to keep them. The Bulgarian fills out a claim for the only trace of his wife – the bridge from her cello. It's delivered two days later. Ana can find nothing that belonged to Russell except a pen that might or might not be his.
That day, Mrs. Liang disappears. The guests, Kevin, the police and volunteer firefighters all scour the island looking for her, but it isn't until the next morning that Police Chief Bunty Phillips reports that she was found in a kind of trance in the lighthouse.
The night before, Ana had a splinter in her foot. Pars, who had studied medicine until he was forced to leave Iran, removes it. In return, Ana massages the tension from his muscles. They sleep together – no sex – in her cabin that night, huddling together for comfort.
And then, the families begin to disperse. Ana and Pars agree to remain in contact – he in Berkeley, California, she in New York. Claartija stays behind as all the others – including her brother – are gone.
A year later, Kevin closes the inn to all but returning family members of the crash victims for a first anniversary memorial. This becomes an annual event, and on the fifth year a change becomes evident. People have finally gone ahead with their lives. Claartija, who has stayed, helps Kevin prepare a meal for a crowd that is finally able to fully appreciate good food and good company. Pars and Ana drive up together. Ana teaches the assembled company how to watch for migrating birds against the moon.
As the guests leave, Kevin puts out the “closed for the season sign” and plans his garden.
This report prepared by David Gordon