Copco Lake, California (CNN) — The celebrated photo of five friends taken on the same California lake every five years is out for the world to see, despite one man’s recent fear of cancer.
Some guys openly feared that this year it could be a photo of four friends instead of the five first pictured as teenagers.
“I was crushed,” said John Dickson, who lives in Santa Barbara, where the friends first met. “We were worried there would be an empty spot on the couch where we would take the shot.”
Dallas Burney, sitting in the middle of the series of photos that mimic the poses from the very first shot, told CNN that in 2019 a large cancerous tumor had been removed from his left leg.
“My cancer – liposarcoma, I knew something was wrong for months,” said the elementary school teacher.
“I was out of school for five months. I can no longer run, but I can certainly walk.”
Burney walked around Copco Lake with ease on Tuesday night with Dickson, Mark Rumer-Cleary, Jon Molony and their host, John “Wedge” Wardlaw.
They hadn’t all been together since the last photo in 2017. Burney’s cancer and the pandemic made reunions difficult.
But eat first
John “Wedge” Wardlaw bakes tacos in his protective gear on Tuesday night.
So they gathered the night before the photo was taken for their other five-year tradition — feasting on “Wedge” tacos.
Wardlaw stuffs meat into hard taco shells and cooks them so hot that he wears a glove and goggles to protect against splatter.
The jokes flew out.
“Salt is the main ingredient,” Wardlaw laughed.
“We all drink water at midnight,” Molony said.
“And #@$! the cardiologist,” Rumer-Cleary joked.
Two of the friends facing the window rose from their seats.
“Bald eagle,” they exclaimed.
The majestic bird, with its distinctive white head, looped above the cabin, as if to lend the scene splendor.
Other animal sightings on Tuesday included a bobcat, deer and cattle.
Taco dinner 2022. Another tradition for the five friends.
The friends, who often chatted to each other in quick bursts, pointed out that Oregon was across the lake.
40 years of tradition
Wednesday afternoon it was time for the main event.
They took the latest photo on a 79-degree day worthy of a travel brochure cover. The five of them faltered in their posture and stiffened as the photos clicked onto a Nikon D800 camera. They sat in the same order and poses they had been striking since 1982.
Copco Lake, 2022. From left to right: John Wardlaw, Mark Rumer-Cleary, Dallas Burney, John Molony, and John Dickson in 2022.
Thanks to John Wardlaw
A hat always rests on Rumer-Cleary’s lap or knee. Molony holds a pot in his right hand. Burney’s right hand rests in his right knee.
“It’s nice to come back here and know that the cancer isn’t going to eliminate what we’re doing,” Burney said.
It’s about friendship.
The five boys told CNN that they had ended up in a German museum exhibition about friendship. Their photo was featured in Costco magazine.
Once again, their images went viral and circulated on social media sites where their looks were mercilessly dissected and praised.
“There are some stupid quotes you can never put in an article,” Wardlaw said.
The five friends have been together in the same Copco Lake cabin for four decades.
Thanks to John Wardlaw
“There were comments on (three of us) shirtless. Some said we looked pretty good, and it was brave after 50.”
Four of the friends are 59 years old. Rumer Clary is 58.
Rumer-Cleary drew attention to the surreal photos and says that sometimes strangers will stop him.
“It happened to me for a few reasons,” said the software engineer who founded Occam Networks. “I’m six feet and I have facial hair. They won’t pick it right away. ‘You look familiar, I don’t know why.'”
All the way back to the beginning
The five friends, all graduates of Santa Barbara High School, took the first photo in the now-familiar pose in their late teens in 1982 with an automatic camera timer.
Their reunions take place in the Copco Lake cabin built by Wardlaw’s grandfather in 1970.
They’ve fished, hiked, barbecued, picked berries for homemade pies, and fooled each other over the years.
Molony described knocking on walls late at night, fireworks thrown into a bedroom in retaliation, and relentless teasing.
Dickson confessed that he nicknamed Wardlaw “Wedge” because of his definition of the shape of his friend’s head after a haircut.
“I hated that nickname,” Wardlaw said. “So it stuck.”
Five friends have been taking the same photo in the same pose in the same cabin every five years for the past 40 years.
Molony is a photographer from New Orleans. Rumer-Cleary is retired and lives in Portland, Oregon. Wardlaw is a filmmaker and photographer living in Bend, Oregon.
Burney, an Air Force veteran, will begin his 23rd year of teaching in Northern California in the fall.
The cancer survivor is not worried about the future of the picture and his health.
“But I’m hesitant to sit on that railing,” Burney said.
“As we get older, the railing also increases. We get a little older, heavier. That bench and railing are about 30 feet high. I worry one day I’ll hear it creak.”
Such a conversation sparked gallows humor, and Burney showed a photo of the tumor pulled from his leg,
“It looks like a tri-tip,” Burney chuckled, referring to the triangular cut of meat that was popular in Santa Barbara County.
The friends all smiled and said almost in unison, “Well, it’s… is doing†
After four decades of jokes and friendship, it’s only fitting that they joked about the tumor that nearly ruined their photo tradition.