"The Footprints of an inebriated chicken" -- Noah John Rondeau's Secret Code
By Roy Reehil
In his 1969 book, Noah John Rondeau - Adirondack Hermit, Maitland DeSormo wrote that Noah's code looked more like the "footprints of an inebriated hen" than something that could actually be read, but in 1946, Rondeau wrote his entire journal in code, making it the most mysterious of all his annual journals.
Many attempts to break the code ended in failure until a young man named David Greene discovered "a key" and through a chance meeting and introduction, was able share his findings with amateur historian William J. O'Hern. At the time, O'Hern was working on his first book, Life with Noah, with Richard Smith, one of Noah's most trusted friends. Smith, or "Red" as he was known to his friends, had always been curious about the contents of the secretive 1946 journal, and agreed to help Greene and O'Hern break the code.
Decoding the journals brought back fond memories for Red, who began visiting Rondeau at his hermitage while he was still in high school. He described his long friendship with Noah as "the best times of my life" and his experiences added the context necessary to understand the most bizarre passages in the journal. For example, "I rob Oscar's bank" made no sense without the context Red supplied. That was "easily explained" he said! Oscar was a friend of Noah's and his "bank" was secret drop site for for food or supplies.
For several months, David continued to decode cryptic passages which in turn sparked memories and stories that Red shared, bringing the contents of the journals to life. Unfortunately, as the work continued, Smith's health declined and before the unlikely team of code breakers completed the '46 journal Red passed away. But without his timely assistance the team would have never known enough about Noah's friends or the quirky names he gave to places he hunted and fished near his Clod River camp.
David and Jay (O'Hern) completed the decoding, but Red did not survive to see the work completed. Red also didn't survive to read his fond recollections of Rondeau successfully shared in O'Hern's excellent book, Life with Noah - The Stories and Adventures of Richard Smith with Noah John Rondeau, which was published by North Country Books in 1997.
In O'Hern's second book about Rondeau, Adirondack Wilderness Days---A Year with the Hermit of Cold River Flow, O'Hern finishes the story about how the code was broken and then shares the decoded contents of Noah's 1946 journal in its entirety. In between journal entries, letters, photographs and reminiscences from Noah's friends provide the context to complete the story of a fun-loving, but misunderstood recluse.
Noah John Rondeau was certainly excentric, but he was also hard working, inventive, knowledgeable about a wide variety of subjects, and fun to be around. That's not exactly what you'd expect from an Adirondack Hermit, but then again, if he wasn't that interesting we wouldn't continue writing about him!.
If you'd like to learn more, here is a list and sources to find books about Noah John Rondeau "the Hermit of Cold River Flow."