Pam Houston has taught creative writing at Denison University in Ohio, where she completed her undergraduate studies, and her short stories have appeared in various literary magazines. Presently completing her doctoral studies at the University of Utah, Houston is also part of the world of women's fashion magazines as a contributing editor for Elle and a frequent contributor to Mirabella and Mademoiselle. For a number of years, Houston has also worked part-time as a river guide and hunting guide in the western United States and has written about those activities for the publications Outside and Travel and Leisure.
Houston's interest in the outdoors forms the core of the stories in Cowboys Are My Weakness (1992), stories that have been described as "exhilarating, like a swift ride through river rapids," as well as "beautifully written and funny." In "A Blizzard Under Blue Sky," the exhilaration comes from sharing a winter adventure in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, while the beauty of the writing is exemplified by this magical description of snow: "[it] stopped being simply white and became translucent, hinting at other colors, reflections of purples and blues and grays." Much of the humor in the story is based on the American fondness for believing that pets think and act like humans. Another feature of Houston's style is that she reflects her generation's habit of referring to items by brand names. She also sometimes teases by not directly identifying a character's gender, using a name that could be either a man's or a woman's and letting a simple pronoun do the work, perhaps contradicting the reader's expectations.
A heavy snowstorm with high winds, the "blizzard" of the title, matches the narrator's mood at the beginning of the story. She tells us that "everyone /n Park City," a resort area near Salt Lake City, Utah, was happy except her. Could that be literally true, or is she exaggerating to make fun of herself? What could have caused such self-pity and depression? And what do you suppose she did about it? How did she find the "blue sky" that is the proverbial symbol of happiness?
A Blizzard Under Blue Sky
The doctor said I was clinically depressed. It was February, the month in which depression runs rampant in the inversion-cloaked Salt Lake Valley and the city dwellers escape to Park City, where the snow is fresh and the sun is shining and everybody is happy, except me. In truth, my life was on the verge of more spectacular and satisfying discoveries than I had ever imagined, but of course I couldn't see that far ahead. What I saw was work that wasn't getting done, bills that weren't getting paid, and a man I'd given my heart to weekending in the desert with his ex. The doctor said, "I can give you drugs." I said, "No way."
She said, "The machine that drives you is broken. You need something to help you get it fixed." I said, "Winter camping." She said, "Whatever floats your boat." One of the things that I love the most about natural world is the way it gives you what's good for you even if you don't know it at the time. I had never been winter camping before, at least not in the high country, and the weekend I chose to try and fix my machine was the same weekend the air mass they called the Alaska Clipper showed up. It was thirty-two degrees below zero in town on the night I spent in my snow cave. I don't know how cold it was out on Beaver Creek. I had listened to the weather forecast, and to the advice of my housemate, Alex, who was an experienced winter camper. "I don't know what you think you're going to prove by freezing to death," Alex said, "but if you've got to go, take my bivvy sack; it's warmer than anything you have." "Thanks." I said. "If you mix Kool-Aid with your water it won't freeze up," he said, "and don't forget lighting paste for your stove." "Okay," I said. "I hope it turns out to be worth it," he said, "because you are going to freeze your butt." When everything in your life in...
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