Writer Christopher Shaw met Jon Cody in 1972 when he moved to Stony Creek, New York, a remote hamlet in the southern Adirondacks. Their close and sometimes rocky friendship lasted until Cody’s death in 2015.
Now 72, Shaw—the author of two previous books and a former editor of Adirondack Life—has written The Crazy Wisdom: Memoir of A Friendship, that recounts in sometimes scathing detail the decades he spent working, adventuring, dealing, and eventually coming to terms with Cody, the older one-armed dope dealer, fine leather craftsman, and Schenectady native, who was a legend and a fixture around Lake George, Saratoga Springs, and Stony Creek, New York, for forty years.
“If anybody ever bestrode the southern Adirondacks with more Bunyan-esque grandiosity, I don’t know who it was,” Shaw wrote after Cody’s death in a 2017 article in Adirondack Life.
But Cody’s was a mixed legacy, as Shaw makes clear, and as his own is. More than a glorification of the outlaw path, or a mere recounting of male escapades typical of the era—living in the wilderness, dealing weed, love affairs gone wrong—The Crazy Wisdom cracks open the psychology of how two seemingly unalike, yet “rhyming” personalities, could so easily crash together in the context of a remote backwoods subculture during a period of societal and environmental upheaval and change.
The title comes from Shaw’s misunderstanding at the time of a term referring to an extreme method of Buddhist teaching, and the related phenomenon of wisdom transmission. In the context of Shaw’s book, this transmission happens during a period in the seventies, when Cody is teaching Shaw fine leather craft in his shop in Lake George and they pass many hours side-by-side working in silence. At one point Shaw finds himself standing and moving like his teacher, viewing the world like him, mirroring his unskillful ways.
Kirkus Reviews called Shaw’s 2020 novel, The Power Line, “a haunting story told with quiet emotional power,” and Anthony Hall of the Lake George Mirror called it “the best single book about the Adirondacks.” Angela Evancie of the “Brave Little State” podcast, on Vermont Public Radio, said it constituted a “tectonic reconstitution of the Adirondack canon.”
In The Crazy Wisdom, Shaw tells how he found only late in their time together how Cody held the key to one of Shaw’s greatest childhood mysteries.
What starts reading like a quaint regional narrative soon takes a number of surprising turns. It all takes place in the Adirondack backcountry and tourist meccas, enlivened by scenes from its wilds and its barrooms—including a disastrous canoe trip, scenes in Cody’s treasured cabin, showdowns with bikers and angry woodsmen—and by the often confused expressions of love between men.
Christopher Shaw is the author of Sacred Monkey River: A Canoe Trip With the Gods (W.W. Norton, 2000), and The Power Line (Miller Pond Editions, 2021). He is a former editor of Adirondack Life and taught writing at Middlebury College for twenty years.