Saying goodbye to a Chico friend
Goodbye, Jesse This is hard, processing a friend’s sudden death. Typing the words—Jesse Mills has died at the age of 41—feels wrong. He was just here, on stage at the Butcher Shop theater festival, and out in the park foraging for ingredients for a batch of stinging nettle soup, and on the patio of the Chico Women’s Club selling his tonics and other wares alongside his wife, Amy Fyrdundel, at the Chikoko Bizarre Bazaar.
It has been a difficult week for this community on which Jesse left such a lasting mark—made even more so by the fact that he and Amy were physically so far away, in Sitka, Alaska, where the couple moved a few months ago. In events that many of us followed with a sense of helplessness on social media, Jesse was reported missing by his wife last Thursday (April 7) after he’d left the night before for a walk—and to go kayaking on Sitka Sound, it turned out. According to news reports, after three days of efforts by the Coast Guard, fire department and area residents, the search was called off and Jesse was presumed dead. His kayak was found on Kasiana Island, and according to a statement by Amy on his Facebook page, search dogs indicated he likely went down in an area of treacherous water nearby.
I wasn’t close to Jesse, but he was one of my treasured “Chico friends.” We knew each other for more than 20 years, beginning sometime in the mid-1990s when I was working downtown at the Upper Crust Bakery, playing in bands and making friends in Chico’s underground music scene. Jesse went to high school with a bunch of the local band dudes (Land of the Wee Beasties, The Becky Sagers, etc.) and I probably first met him at a show or hanging out at The Bookstore—where his brother (and current bookstore owner) Josh Mills worked.
My memory is fuzzy on many details, but whether it was chatting it up at Juanita’s or on the sidewalk at night in front of the Crust/Bookstore, where his crew of former Chico High School kids used to hang out, talking with Jesse was always an invigorating trip for me. He was so opinionated, often difficult, but always passionate in his thoughts and actions and leaving at the drop of a hat to hop trains and travel the country. In my mind, I pictured him as Walt Whitman (something that in recent years was solidified by his attire of a blousy white shirt with sensible wide-brimmed foraging hat), a rebellious poet and defender of nature, a man out of time and often at odds with these times.
Jesse was also a badass performer, one of the most respected actors in town, who fully committed to his roles at the Butcher Shop/Blue Room Theatre and to his vocals as a member of the outlandish Soft Rock Choir. He even did some writing for the CN&R—a few news stories and eco-focused articles—of course challenging the sometimes artistically stifling editorial process along the way.
It’s been overwhelming and inspiring to read the impressive depth of thought and feeling in the responses that have been flooding Jesse’s Facebook wall over the past few days. Hopefully, that outpouring will offer some measure of comfort to Amy and Josh and the rest of Jesse’s family as they try to come to terms with their sudden loss. I and everyone at the CN&R offer condolences to you all.
Rest in peace, Jesse.