Magazine article Sunset

Mountains and Men

Magazine article Sunset

Mountains and Men

Article excerpt

You won't find Brokeback Mountain on any Wyoming map. I think of it as rising somewhere in the Bighorn Mountains. West of Buffalo, maybe, or near Cloud Peak.

Brokeback Mountain is, of course, the fictional peak that inspired first an Annie Proulx short story and now the Ang Lee film that has become a surprise hit. It tells the story of two hardscrabble cowboys, Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist--played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal--and how, in the summer of 1963, they worked herding sheep on Brokeback Mountain, fell into something they couldn't call love, and kept falling for the next 20 years.

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"Wyoming people are not wishy-washy about Brokeback Mountain," says Bill Sniffin, a Wyoming publisher who has written about the Brokeback phenomenon for his newspaper column. "They love it or hate it." In a state where gay rights have inspired anger, anguish, and pride--from the murder of Matthew Shepard to the recent tenure of a gay man as Casper's mayor--the story of Jack and Ennis still touches raw nerves.

And yet there is nowhere else where Brokeback Mountain could have been set. After all, the two preeminent Western novels of all time take place in Wyoming. Between them, Owen Wister's The Virginian and Jack Schaefer's Shane established every Western archetype you've ever encountered: the taciturn cowboy, the pretty schoolmarm, the brutish bad guy, and the stranger coming to town to set everything right. And, especially, a Western landscape that is gorgeous, terrifying, larger than life.

"Much about the place moved me deeply," Annie Proulx has written. A New Englander by birth, she first went to Wyoming in the early 1990s and now lives there. "Every chance I had, I took Wyoming for my subject."

"It's a powerful landscape," says Sharon Dynak, the executive director of the Ucross Foundation--the artists colony 10 miles west of Clearmont, Wyoming, that provided one of Proulx's introductions to the state. …

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