There he was - a real Adirondack hermit, dressed in his backwoods clothes, surrounded by his furs, packbasket, some deer antlers, his snowshoes and his homemade bow and arrow.
It was Noah John Rondeau, the most famous of the hermits, and I was a teenage Adirondacker attending the Amsterdam Sportsman Show. I still have his photograph I bought for a quarter, which I recorded in one of my books so it would not get lost in ancient history.
Noah's claim to fame was well-earned. He spent 381 continuous days in the Adirondacks from May 1 of 1943 to May 16, 1944. He began his Cold River hermitage 18 miles from the nearest road in 1902, and by 1929 was spending summers and winters in the wilderness. In 1940, he spent the entire year alone with the exception of 10 days.
Noah's rebellious nature contributed to his choice of an outdoor, solitary life. He ran away from home while a teenager, recording in his journal, "I left my father, Peter Rondeau, his stick, his abuse of me, his religion, his priest and his fool God." Fortunately, his Adirondack life mellowed his feelings so that by April of his final year he wrote to a friend, "And now closing: In spite of my sickness and weakness; I have certain facts to think about that make me so happy-I could cry and laugh at the same time: and I pray Jehovah, God Almighty, and his son, Jesus Christ, that they will so bless you and yours that you will escape the plagues to come, and be ready for God's Kingdom which is near at hand."
After many years of fighting with the game protectors, "Conservationers," as he called them, they ended up with a positive relationship, often arranging for Noah to attend sportsmen shows and other outdoor events, where he became an Adirondack celebrity. His high intelligence - he loved astronomy, geology, biology, and evolution - served him well in his public appearances. Combining that with the ways of the woods taught to him by Native American Dan Emmett made Noah John Rondeau a legend in his own time.
Many remember Noah's "Cold River City" in the heart of the high peak region and have their own stories to tell of the charming hermit. His evening concerts on his violin, which attracted the deer from the woods, were enjoyed by many hikers who can attest to the truth of the event. He often carved trinkets and, at one time, according to the memories of author Earle Russell, sold eyebrow pencils by charring the ends of little sticks. His traplines brought in about $75 per year. The DEC and passing visitors often supplied Noah with canned goods. He kept them in the river. When they lost their labels, he had to guess what the next meal would be.
Noah left the 1950 Big Blowdown Adirondacks in his old age and, in 1967, passed away at the age of 84 in Saranac Lake. His "Cold River" Adirondack village is now at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake complete with his small cabin and teepee wood piles.
I thought that Noah the Hermit was a rich man; visitors at the Sportsman Show were placing dollar bills in his packbasket. Now I know he was rich in other ways, living out his life in the unsurpassed Adirondack forest.