In Pam Houston's "A Blizzard under Blue Sky," the narrator is depressed. She goes to a doctor who wants to prescribe drugs, but she refuses. She finally decides that the best cure for her is to go out into the wilderness and look death in the face.
A writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Betsy Kline, referred to Houston's stories as "tough-girl fiction." "A Blizzard under Blue Sky" is a perfect example of Houston's style. In many of Houston's other short stories found in her prize-winning collection Cowboys Are My Weakness, the female narrators face outdoor dangers as they tackle white-water rafting, wild animal hunting, and mountain climbing. But in the other stories, the narrators usually have men to keep them company. In "A Blizzard under Blue Sky," the narrator is alone, except for her two dogs, Jackson and Hailey, who have come along to keep her company. At one point, it is also the dogs that keep her warm when the narrator is caught in a blizzard.
"Houston thrives on danger," Kline wrote. That is certainly true for the narrator of this short story. When facing danger, she forgets about all the other details of her life, most frequently the poor choices she makes in men.
In this short story, the narrator goes winter camping, something she had never done before. The story takes place in Utah, and the narrator's friend Alex lends her an expedition grade sleeping bag that offers extra insulation. Alex thinks she is nuts to go camping, but at least she might sleep warmer at night in his heavy-duty bivvy sack. Well, maybe not so warmly, Alex thinks, because he knows she is still going to all but freeze.
Due to the lack of human companionship, the narrator not only talks to her dogs in this story, she also talks for them. Jackson, her big dog, encourages her when she starts to feel reluctant about the hike she is about to take. Hailey, the smaller dog, is less enthusiastic and tends to groan a lot.
The narrator lives to tell her story, though she admits that it was one of the longest and coldest nights of her life. She and her dogs slept in a cave they dug out of a hill of snow. Although her depression eventually fades, the narrator admits that this did not happen over one night of winter camping. But the cold adventure helped. If nothing else, she had one day that was so demanding, it lifted her focus out of her troubles and made her appreciate the beauty of a winter wilderness.
Did this raise a question for you?