Thursday, March 20, 2008
A little about myself...
I'm not a "hero worshipper" in any sense of the word, but, there are a few folks that have captured my imagination because of an affinity I feel for them. And, they're very few.
Those who know me well might consider me a bit of a loner. Many of my pursuits are solitary ones, and I like it that way. I revel in solitude and "alone time".
It's only natural then, that one of the people I feel a connection to, would be a hermit...
So here, is Noah John Rondeau... The Hermit of Cold River.
Noah John Rondeau
Mayor: Cold River City (Population 1)
Noah John Rondeau is perhaps the most well-known of the Adirondack Hermits. And there were many: Don Williams, in his book Inside the Adirondack Blue Line, comments that "It was not uncommon in an Adirondack village to see a bewhiskered, shabby, sometimes smelly old man walking into town ... He was quickly identified as the "resident" hermit at that settlement." Alvah Dunning, French Louie, Daniel Wadsworth, Ebenezer Bowen, the list goes on and on. Some may have lived more solitary lives than Rondeau, but he was a true Adirondack Hermit.
Born in 1883 and raised near Ausable Forks, Rondeau ran away from home to escape an abusive father during his teenage years. Much about his early life is unknown; despite the fact that he kept extensive journals, much of the writings contained therein are in indecipherable code. Rondeau did begin writing an account of his early childhood, however. Unfortunately, it ends abruptly in mid-sentence and only focuses on several events of his pre-teen years. NJR achieved nothing more than an eighth grade education, but he educated himself, was well-read, and kept a supply of books in his hermitage. He was especially interested in astronomy, which he no doubt was able to put into practice on many a crisp, cool Adirondack night. He also played the violin, performing for whomever may have wandered up through the Cold River valley, or in the absence of other humans, he serenaded the deer. Before moving away from civilization, NJR lived in Corey's on the Raquette River, where he learned the ways of the woods from Daniel Emmett, a member of the Abenaki Indian tribe from Canada. Two other well-known Abenakis were Sabael Benedict, after whom Indian Lake and the hamlet of Sabael on its shore derive their name, and Lewis Elijah, who brought a plug of iron ore he found to the men who established the McIntyre Iron Mine. It was here in Corey's that Rondeau had his first run-ins with the fledgling Conservation Department (the predecessor of today's Department of Environmental Conservation), and a particular game warden who would cause him problems for years to come. NJR rarely had pleasant remarks for the Conservation Department in what journals he recorded in plain English.
At any rate, Rondeau was a regular visitor to the beautiful Cold River area of the western High Peaks in the early 20th century, but did not begin spending his winters at his hermitage until 1929. He set up several buildings in "Cold River City," including the "Town Hall" in which he resided, a "Hall of Records," and a number of "wigwams:" teepee-shaped structures which were made out of timbers he had cut to be used for firewood during the long Adirondack winters. NJR, despite being a hermit, often received visitors and for the most part openly accepted them, even if he was a bit slow to trust others. Some of his visitors are well-known Adirondackers, including Dr. Orra Phelps and Grace Hudowalski (Rondeau actually corresponded with Hudowalski, among others, on a fairly regular basis). NJR's longest stay at the Cold River was 381 days, during World War II. Some outsiders unfamiliar with NJR assumed him to be a draft-dodger trying to escape the war by holing up deep inside the Adirondack wilderness. Truth be told, by the time the United States became involved in WWII, Rondeau was nearly 60 years old, and had been living at the Cold River for over 10 years. In fact, NJR remarked in a letter dated 4/8/43, printed in the Ausable Forks Record-Post that
I never went to Cold River to dodge anything, unless it was from 1930 to 1940 when it might be said I dodged the American labor failure at which time I could not get enough in civilization to get along even as well as I could at Cold River under hard circumstances in the back woods. Since I'm not evading I did not make my first appearance at Cold River on the day that Pearl Harbor was bombed. What I'm doing toward the war effort looks like nothing, but that's all I can do and I'm doing it and it is this -- I'm self sustained.
In what probably contributed most to his fame, NJR appeared in numerous sportsmen's shows across the Northeast during the late 40's and early 50's. His first appearance was at the National Sportsmen's Show in New York City in 1947. The Conservation Department was so determined for Rondeau to appear that they flew NJR out from his hermitage by helicopter. He was a huge hit at the show, and immediately began scheduling appearances at other shows. Intermingled with these appearances were brief trips into the Cold River valley. His fame was relatively short-lived, and after several years the spotlight began to fade. Unfortunately, the "Big Blow" of 1950 leveled much of the forest around his hermitage. The Conservation Department closed the area to the public for the next 3 years due to the widespread and near-complete destruction. Sixty-seven years old at the time, Rondeau never would return to the Cold River. For the remaining seventeen years of his life, he lived in the Lake Placid - Saranac Lake - Wilmington area, outside the wilderness he loved so much. His health gradually deteriorated until his death on August 24, 1967. Noah John Rondeau was never granted his final wish: to be buried at his hermitage; his remains lie in the North Elba Cemetery.