A Real Cliffhanger

Somewhere Near or Above Pettigrew, Arkansas

Just so we’re clear, this is not Photoshopped. This employs two other techniques I use much more frequently, intoxication and stupidity. I haven’t used the former technique in years, since July of 2020 actually, but you will find that STUPIDITY runs rampant in a lot of my work.

Back when I was still drinking, people would use the words “high functioning” to describe my particular brand of alcoholism, but I always felt that “high energy alcoholic" was a much more accurate moniker, as functioning implies some sort of utility.

I was always on the move and traveled a great deal, and one of my absolute favorite things to do was get shit-faced -- and then pack my suitcase for an upcoming trip. It was always a treat to arrive somewhere, usually another country, and discover what an earlier, drunker version of myself had packed for me.

Italy was perhaps the worst, as it turned out that Drunk Ryan had packed somewhere close to thirty books. Not eBooks, mind you, but thirty voluminous, hard backed books. To include novels, text books, and even a few random encyclopedia tomes (how I chose those particular letters, I may never know). Most of these books are now the property of the DFW International Airport. My suitcase weighed about 1,000,000 pounds, and they wouldn’t let me on the plane with it.

“What are all these books for?” the airline attendant asked me.

“I, too, would be interested in knowing that,” I told her.

I guess I thought that since I didn’t speak Italian, I would need to bring every book I owned, ever, in case there were none there for sale, in English, in the entire country of Italy. Makes sense. What sadly did not make sense, is that with all the book packing, I apparently ran out of room... and therefore forgot to pack any pants. I showed up to live in Italy with a grand total of two pairs of pants, a story for another day. You think I’d learn my lesson, but no, the drunk packing went on for many years to come, always followed, of course, by the inevitable and bewildered unpacking.

However, on this particular day in Arkansas, photography was at stake, and so we had come well-prepared. You weren’t expecting that little twist, were you? Things would still become a shit-show, don't worry, but not due to a lack of preparation.

In order to capture the early morning mist that we wanted, it was a 4:00 a.m. wake up call, followed by hiking in the dark, and eventually, the pouring rain. (High energy, remember?!!!)

We had even brought satellite walkie-talkies, to communicate with each other over semi-long distances. There was no cell phone service in this particular part of the Ozark, and you can probably tell from the shot you see that the camera position was no where near the subject. Even with a whiskey buzz, I made sure I had both walkie-talkies with me and that the batteries were fresh. It wasn’t until about thirty minutes later, when Joe showed up over a mile away, on the cliff escarpment, that I realized my mistake, and why I say I was always a high energy drunk, but not necessarily high functioning: I didn’t need both walkie talkies, Joe needed one. What am I supposed to do with both of them??


The reason we got there so early is that after the morning rain stops, there is only a brief interval of time in which the atmospheric mist rising up from the canyon is desirable, visually speaking. At one point it rises up too far, and simply blocks the cliff view altogether. I could sense this moment was fast approaching, but sent my partner running to Joe with a walkie talkie anyways, pretty sure he wouldn’t make it there in time.

So that’s when all the yelling began. Back and forth, Joe and I yelled like lunatics across the canyon. I wondered if he could hear and understand anything I was yelling, because I most definitely could not understand him.

In the end this ended up being a blessing, since Joe— knowing what I was looking for photogrpahically— got closer to the cliff’s edge that I could have ever conscionably coaxed him to get on a walkie.

At one point, he was making me so nervous I was thinking -- Did he agree to do this because it coincided with some already planned suicide pact he’d made?! Like maybe... he wants his final gift to me to be an epic shot of his body falling into the abyss? Jesus, Joe, step back already!

Join me next time to find out if Joe is still alive, or if his body is deep at the bottom of a crevasse somewhere in the Ozark mountains…

Yep. That’s right. I wrote a cliffhanger.


Join me for yet another cliff-hanging adventure HERE!