From here on out the known history of Wiley Jeb is a patchwork comprised of brief encounters, aquatic apparitions, and tall tales. Hikers, Miners, Rangers, and Narcos spread word around town about seeing a man with skin the hue of cooked caramel splashing and singing in the most inaccessible swimming holes, pools in canyons that seemed impossible to reach. His tuneless, indecipherable song had all the hallmarks of a madman. No one could say what the words were, only that the rhythm and melody brought on a sense of calm and serenity, as if one were peacefully meditating near a babbling brook. Witnesses recall being lulled into a nearly catatonic state by the song. That when they came to they had no sense of the passage of time—but all invariably reported vivid dreams of water: waterfalls, rivers, faucets being turned on and off, etc. Yet try as they might, they could find no trace of Wiley Jeb, he had simply vanished with the rushing of the water.
Perhaps the best-known story is that of a young hiker named Courtney Marshall. The year was 1982 and having just finished up her second year of college at Chico State, Courtney meant to spend the first part of her summer hiking in the Shasta-Trinity national forest. She was an accomplished backpacker, having spent her childhood hiking and camping with her mother in California’s many protected lands. This was to be her first solo trip, a time to reflect back on her second year of school, which had been a hard one. Her boyfriend Dustin broke up with her during spring quarter and was now dating a blonde communications student named Becky. Things only got worse for Courtney from there: in a fit of alcohol-fueled depression she decided to light a bag of her own feces on fire and place it on Dustin’s doorstep. Unfortunately, the feces were infused with high levels of alcohol from her recent binging and the bag went off like a bomb, catching the door on fire and spraying feces all over Courtney in the process. Although she wanted to run, she knew that she couldn’t let Dustin’s entire house catch on fire. As she savagely raked at the en fuego feces in hopes of smothering the flames, a neighbor called the fire department. So enthralled by the sight of a young woman frantically trying to douse a spackling of fire by pawing at it with her sweatshirt, the neighbor videotaped the whole thing with his camcorder. Dustin, who wasn’t home when Courtney committed the accidental arson, arrived back to home with Becky just as the fire trucks were rolling up. By which point Courtney had put the fire out and was crumpled into a crying, smoking, feces-covered heap at the foot of his door. Unfairly, his reaction and subsequent interaction with her did not consider the valiant efforts to save his door or the fact that she was covered in her own excrement. Adding mass insult to injury, the neighbor’s tape was picked up by local and then national news. For the rest of the semester, Courtney stayed in her dorm room with the blinds pulled closed (the school took mercy on her and granted she could take her finals without having to attend any more classes).
It was with great relief that Courtney embarked into the wilderness, hoping to avoid contact with anyone in the outside world.
She had been walking for four days, hiking steadily, deep into the mountains, when she came across a split in her trail that did not show up on her map. In one direction the trail crept into a dark and a foreboding wood; in the other, golden light danced across the forest floor as the wind orchestrated the movement of the trees. Courtney heeded its call and followed the light. Her path steered downhill, and soon she was traversing tiny creeks and brooks, entering a steep canyon with springs breaking from the walls, cascading in long white brush strokes into a main creek far below. She continued on her way and eventually sensed she was near the bottom of the gorge. Moments later she rounded a corner into a small meadow, on which sat a tiny cabin. In the background a trio of waterfalls spilled into the creek running alongside the canyon. Each of the waterfalls seemed to draw their water from a different source, their flows markedly different shades of turquoise. As she stood there, marveling at the scene, a bright light emanated from the confluence of the three falls. It grew larger and larger until she could see inside of it, see a figure walking out from the light source within. It was at this moment she became aware of the melody; she couldn’t say for how long she had been listening, it was as if it had alway been there, floating in her subconscious, waiting for the dial to be tuned correctly. As the being stepped out of the light she could see it was a man, tanned and wizened with a long gray beard. He wore sandals, sunglasses and a bandana. She knew he had noticed her, and without surprise he winked in her direction with eyes larger and more expressive than any she’d ever seen. His wink, though instant, stretched across time, took up all of her consciousness, spread itself over her thoughts like spilled paint across a cement floor.
"But this wasn't her mind repeating it again and again: it was the same moment both instant and eternal.”
Courtney awoke on the trail facing the same dark wood she had looked to earlier. This time there was no split in the trail, no dappled beckoning. She searched for some sign of the other path, spent days hunting the cabin in the meadow. She wondered about the man, the very, very chilled out man in the light. Eventually she gave up. Maybe she had hit her head, or maybe she was just cracked, the stress of the past months finally catching up to her. But as these negative thoughts collected in her brain a melody swelled in opposition, filling up her awareness and erasing the gloom. This same melody, the one she recognized in the valley, would accompany throughout the rest of her life11She decided to leave Chico State: it was too dry and far from water anyway. Courtney became a biologist and did groundbreaking work on the study of freshwater turtles., draining away negativity whenever it arose. On her way out of the MSOJ, she stopped in Hayfork to resupply, get gas and have a cold beer or two. Sitting amongst locals at the bar, she heard the bartender whistlin a familiar melody.
“Where did you learn that song?” she asked, “Who taught it to you?”
“Oh, I just whistle what comes into my head.”