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Remembering Noah John Rondeau

Photograph by Phil Wolff

Forty-five years ago last Friday Noah John Rondeau, the gregarious Adirondack hermit, died in a Lake Placid hospital room, far from the woods and waters he loved. It was also far from the send-off he’d imagined, as set down in the following poem, one of 25 that “The Mayor of Cold River City (Population 1)” scrawled in his journals, on the backs of milk labels or squeezed into the blank spaces of old Christmas cards, according to Rondeau biographer Maitland C. De Sormo.

When I Hop Off

If at my wigwam you find me dead
Don’t start to whine then rant a prayer
To teach a myth, God will never know
That a Hermit died that never dies before.

And don’t get a coffin, trimmed with silver,
To preserve odor of my dead carcass,
And don’t by shining slippers to make believe
I’m jumping pearly gates with sprints from Galilee.

And don’t burn candles near my head.
I hated paganism before I was dead;
And don’t get Saint Peter, or Stovepipe Hat
Or Roman collar or Jack Ass Democrat.

Here are some ends that may be done
By common men, without uniforms.
Take birch and maple from my Wigwam
And build a fire on the ground.

And place my carcass on combustible bulk,
And cremate to vapor and to dust,
And the pale, bleached mineral of my bones,
Break to shale between rock and common stone.

Then rake coals and shales with wood I’ve cut
And finish burning near the Hut.
And leave me on top Cold River Hill
To repay to Earth my borrowed clay.

Then don’t get bright, polished marble slab
And start to write the usual lies:
“I am not dead or awake, but sleep
And my harp I play at Jesus’ feet.”

Rather here is what is, without fiction’s store,
The Hermit I was, I am no more.
While fire cremated, in a brief day
Nebulosity ascended while purified the clay.

And where I took off, near the Hut—
You’ll find no such Hermit as I was;
All I leave of corporal real store
Is a bit of dust that was dust before.

And call it not hade or holy ground
Where shales of my bones are found.
Don’t start a holy war at any time,
If someone plow and till the ground.

Stone not the Robin that seeks my clay
To build a mansion for coming babies.
Little Johnny shooting arrows chide not at all
Forbid not little Susie to play here with Her Doll.

Plants will come and bloom their flowers
And trees will grow to stately towers.
Fray not the Doe that nurses her Fawn,
Or Ruby Throat at the columbine.

Read a firsthand account of the beloved hermit’s good humor and hospitality in “Knowing Noah John” (June 2010), by Phil Wolff.

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