Penelope Keeling has just had a heart attack, or so her doctor says, but she cannot tolerate the sights and sounds of impending death that surround her at the hospital. So against his orders, she goes home. She looks over her garden, and determines to clear away the weeds there, when suddenly a memory of the past flashes before her: a vision of her mother Sophie and her playing against a beautiful seascape. Her father is in the foreground, capturing the scene on canvas, and it isn't unlike his painting on her parlor wall called "The Shell Seekers" that she keeps because it's a document of the days when she was most happy. It's a mighty vision, because in it lies the heart of Penelope's gift - the joy of living that her dead mother was able to pass on to her, a joy she so wishes she knew how to convey to her children - and can't. And in her frustration, she embarks on a journey to recapture that happiness again.