Elegy for Jolie
Jolie Egret Elan
June 19, 1969-November 30, 2020
Jolie, May Her Memory Be for Blessing, was an inspirational educator, activist, deep ecologist, ethnobotanist, wild-woman, and spiritual counselor for those looking to deepen their connection to the sacred earth. She died suddenly on November 30, 2020, in her home with her mother, who was caring for her, after just having recently been diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer, a week prior. The severity of her condition had only just been discovered when she died from this cancer, leaving us all bereft.
She was laid to rest in an oak grove in a beautiful Jewish green burial service led by Rabbis David Zaslow and Julie Benioff. She was covered in earth, acorns, flowers, prayers, and offerings at Willow-Witt Ranch’s Forest natural burial ground.
Born Jolie Danielle Lonner in Brooklyn, NY on June 19, 1969 to Susan Shaftel Lonner (now Susan Margin) and Robert Lonner. She was a sister to Monique Lonner Leisher and Nicole Lonner Dorfman, Sister-in-Law to Steve Leisher and Brian Dorfman, an Aunt to Eli and Avery Dorfman, Niece to Ellen Streisand and Lee and Lynn Shaftel, Cousin to Erica, Steven, Haley & Max Needle, as well as to Aaron, Noah, Joshua, and Rachel Shaftel.
She was the beloved ex-wife of David Egert as well as being a true and wonderful friend and auntie to a large tribe of friends, co-workers, creatures, plants, and the planet. She was the mother of many wonderful fur companions including Scout her dog, and her dear cate Fate who preceded her in death. Her cats Acorn and Tiger Lily are still catting about on this earth and being cared for by her friend Patrick.
Jolie was a longtime activist and environmentalist. She worked in the anti-nuclear movement along with so many other anti-war movements. At the age of 19 she began organizing actions at the Nevada test site. She was a visionary. She was involved in the Dann Ranch, protecting lands of the Western Shoshone ranching sisters. She was also actively involved with Seeds of Peace and participated in the 1992 cross-country Walk for Mother Earth.
Jolie received her B.A. from Evergreen State College in Environmental Studies and her master’s degree in Natural Resources from Humboldt State University. She was the founding Director of Go Wild Institute. She inspired thousands of people to deepen their relationship with nature and her work continues through the Go Wild Institute. She was a magical teacher with bold and unique interdisciplinary ideas. She lit up any space she was in when teaching about her beloved sacred Oaks, whether in the schools or just on a walk. She taught physically having her students crack and grind acorns while listening to her tell the mythical stories of the Oak Trees.
She taught everything from botany to plant communication at a wide range of herbal medicine schools, and environmental and spiritual organizations throughout the world. Jolie worked with ethnobotanical projects on four continents including restoring sacred forest groves in India and developing an herbal medicine sector in war torn Kosovo. She worked and taught actively with herbalist Matthew Wood.
Jolie was a certified permaculture designer and a seasoned environmental advocate with twenty years of experience building and helping to maintain diverse networks, especially with indigenous groups focused on protecting sacred sites. She has served on many Boards and was the President of the Marin Chapter of the California Native Plant Society.
She was a Lorax, speaking always for the trees. Her dedication to trees meant listening to what they told her: “While meditating on Mount Tam, the Tanoaks told me that their wisdom is leaving the planet. They used to be loved, celebrated, and cared for. They are sick, lonely and feel unloved. They asked me for oak ceremonies on Mount Tam. And as nuts as it may seem—I am going to do it, after all—today’s mighty oak is just a little nut who stood her ground.” Based on this conversation with the Tanoak Spirit, Jolie created the annual Oak Ceremony on Mt. Tamalpais in 2012. Come rain, sun, or fire she has held a ceremony for them each year since. Her work lives on in those who have agreed to carry this ceremony forward.
Combining her love for the earth with her spiritual practice, she completed her training as a Spiritual Director. She acted in this position as a spiritual companion for anyone wishing to increase their intimacy with the Divine, especially through their connection to the natural world. Her most current workshops were through the Work that Reconnects, a movement she actively participated in and helped lead teachings through.
As a Jewish Wild Woman, she worked within the Jewish community with organizations like the American Jewish World Service, Hazon, Wilderness Torah, Temple Emek Shalom, Havurah Shir Hadash, and the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco and many others. She offered eco-Jewish classes that grounded Jewish practices and teachings in the Earth based wisdom she embodied.
Jolie was often found foraging wild foods and herbs and making acorn cakes, crackers, and herbal medicines. She loved long walks in the woods with friends, contemplating life’s mysteries and always asking provocative questions. She was interested in deeper meanings, integrity, honesty, and real lessons of life. She loved all her fur-companions. She loved music and to dress up and embody various characters including Elvis Presley. She was often seen in her fabulous Elvis costume dancing up a wild storm. She was writing her own book detailing her journey through individual plant teachers, which we hope to publish posthumously, please see her website for updates on her writings.
Jolie was buried in a simple Jewish shroud in a wild and beautiful place in the hills outside of Ashland. Her friends and family carried her body through a field of sweet grasses and trees, down a hill amidst the pines and oaks. She was laid to rest in the earth she loved and labored for. She was buried with earth-medicines, plants, acorns, earth from Mount Tam and Israel and many tears and prayers from her family and friends. “We prayed and sang and blessed her and the world while the wind whistled through the trees and the sun shined. We cried upon the earth and we felt her presence…healed and healing, resting finally from her fight. We named her our ancestor and can already feel her amongst us. The Jewish prayers we read were more potent than I’ve ever felt…I think this is because Jolie, unlike most people, truly lived between the worlds when she was here.
Communing regularly with plants, animals, and spirits. So, it is not a far cry at all that she still lives between the worlds of “there” instead of “here.” I felt differently afterward, still sad, still would give anything to turn it around, but given that it IS, I am grateful to have honored her in this way, a small group of family and friends, safely returning her to the beautiful earth of which she (and all of us) are a part.” ~Julie Wolk
Donations in Jolie’s memory should be made to any organizations that you already support that continue the work of honoring, tending to, connecting, and protecting the earth and all her inhabitants furry, floral, fungal, fruity, wild, green or any humans in need. May her Memory be for Blessing and may she be able to rest in peace, knowing we will continue her journey as we walk, sing, dance, love, laugh and labor to connect honestly with each other and all those we share space with on this spinning orb.
Elegy for Jolie
For twenty foolish years I walked right past them,
on my way through the woods to the river, assuming
I was seeing all there was to be seen. Then one early spring,
in the cool, deep wet of the redwood forest, Jolie came to visit.
She opened my eyes to hidden wonder along the trail:
Tiny lilies, no bigger than my thumbnail! Dozens of them!
Three yellow-green pointed petals striped with purple-brown,
each one a masterpiece of flowering camouflage painted
by an artist devoted to detail! They had been there all along,
as I walked by unaware, a visitor in this place I call home,
a transplant from another woods a continent away.
Another dozen years I searched for green shoots coming up
through red duff of the forest floor, as freshling ferns
unfurled their softness and trillium trembled underground,
awakening from a seven-year slumber to the quiet life
of blooming among huckleberries. And there they were,
in the gently growing light: Little gems! Miniature marvels!
I crouched down to delight in their delicate presence,
giving thanks for seeing what I hadn’t seen before.
Jolie told us their distasteful name: fetid adder’s tongue,
as if to say they had nothing good to say, a slander
of their spicy, unripe smell, not a fragrance, no nose-pleaser.
But this isn’t a tended garden, rather a resilient patch
of third-growth trees remembering ancient ancestors,
the wise old towering ones. The young now stand watch
between the house I built on the bluff and the wild
free-flowing river below, the sound of water churning
through my winter meditations and springtime dreams.
Back before annihilation, people called Nongatl walked
these woods from village to village. What did they call
the clever flower that would hide from white people’s eyes,
blending into the February forest? But it wasn’t February
for them, and their ancient word for early-spring-moon-time
is likely lost, never again to roll off a human tongue,
but be whispered by spirits that don’t forget names.
Growing old and wise, I take my glasses to see fine features
on each flowering face, elegant lines invisible to aging eyes,
like gossamer strands of my small granddaughter’s hair,
and baby-down on her unfurrowed brow. She hasn’t heard
the words cancer or tragedy. Her tender eyes take in the wonder
of the walk as I point out big things: tall trees, hills, clouds,
and small things: soft moss, dew drops on new leaves,
spiders in their sticky webs spun hopefully across the trail.
I didn’t cry when I heard Jolie fell ill and swiftly died.
She hadn’t visited in years, and I’d wept over many graves,
but it was sad, and I was sad. Though she was younger
than me, the photos showed her long hair gone silver,
while mine’s still forest brown with streaks of grey,
so I blend into the landscape, after thirty-two circles
round the sun, walking this trail, finding hidden things.
On a February visit, I’ll take my granddaughter there,
bend over her and whisper Rivka, look! What do you see?
She’ll peer into the dark puzzle of mossy branches,
and when she sees them, go down into an agile squat,
and with her two-year-old tongue softly say flowers,
and her grandma will answer fetid adder’s tongue.
(It makes no sense to me and won’t make sense to her.)
Then, since they are so many, and come back after they die,
I’ll tell her we can pick them, and when her small fingers
reach out, I’ll turn aside to hide my stream of tears.
Rabbi Naomi Steinberg
February 8, 2021
Sharing Solstice with a Soul Sister by Nicole Barchilon Frank
Sharing Solstice with a Soul Sister
A popping, crackling fire, it is cold, very cold, as only an Irish night can be. Five years ago now, my solstice fire on the Isle of Eire kept me warm and took me deep into the Winter Solstice time of change and birth. I had a sister come visit, we made garlands for the trees, had a festive meal, and made offerings in songs, tears and some good Irish whiskey.
This spinning planet will continue spinning and I’ll keep spinning on it, but my dear beloved Jolie left this earth on November 30, 2020, ten days after learning she had ovarian cancer. I had been getting ready, and coordinating with friends and family re: who would be traveling to her in Ashland for her surgery, who would be there before and after, and who could cook meals locally. We never got to that point.
I find I don’t know how to continue writing, after the sentence “we never got to that point.”
I mean who was expecting that? Jolie thought she was dying and that the cancer had moved into her lungs, but I thought she was overwhelmed and scared and in pain and afraid. I was wrong. She was all those things as well, but she was also very, very sick. She had been unwell, struggling with tummy issues (or so we thought). I think that during the Covid 19 pandemic, many folks went to the doctor less often, and she thought her issues were dietary, not ovarian. I can’t know all the reasons her cancer was so severe and took her life so quickly. Perhaps she’d had it for years and misinterpreted the symptoms. Jolie has had a sensitive stomach and nature for as long as I’ve known her, which is over twenty years. She’s also had a troubled history with her female organs.
She couldn’t eat gluten, dairy, caffeine or alcohol and she also avoided sugar. She was a fiercely healthy woman in so many ways. She probably spent more time outdoors than anyone else I know. She hiked, biked, slept, walked, dreamed and lived in nature all the time. She would set up her bed outdoors when the weather was nice. Her preferred environment was always a wild and outdoor one.
Now, she is flying free and singing with the angels, or she’s an eagle or she’s lounging somewhere resting in glory, these are my most fervent wishes and dreams for her, a real end to her profound and deep suffering. She was a fiercely joyous person at times but also someone who keenly felt the pain of the earth, the pain of others, her own pain and she just was tuned to the hurt channel a lot of the time.
She and I had a disagreement about life after death, we had many, over the course of our friendship. She remembered coming into her body as an infant, being born and feeling very unhappy about how much suffering she was going to have to endure and she insisted her first memory was this sense of pain and anguish. She further was afraid that this cycle of pain would repeat and that she wouldn’t get off this spinning wheel of suffering.
For a Jewish girl, she had some serious pagan beliefs. Actually, she probably considered herself more of a pagan than a Jew. She was a deep lover of the earth, of Native spiritual traditions. She studied with various tribal elders, learned rituals from them as well as worked for different Native nations around the world throughout her life. She studied Buddhism and Hinduism. She loved the Enneagram and we disagreed about that as well. One of my last promises to her, after a fight we’d had, was that I’d read the section pertinent to me (in her opinion) and go over the chapter with her to explore areas I needed to grow and change in. She would do the same with me for her chapter. I don’t remember now what number I am in the Enneagram. I’m sorry, sister, I won’t be following through with this task, now that you’re not here. The Enneagram is not for me.
I’m firmly a Jewish Curandera/Healer/Witch myself. Jolie and I danced our Judaism together and she came more into a relationship with it as our friendship grew and she saw that there was a deeply rooted earth-based nature to Judaism and that she didn’t have to hide who she was or water down her Wild Woman ways to be a Jew. In recent years she was teaching and working within several Jewish communities, not outside of them, actively a member and engaged with them. We went over her lesson plans and ideas often and she wanted me to co-teach with her for years. Something, I never had the time for, and which now I most deeply regret.
Back to our argument. Jolie was pretty sure that she wouldn’t just be going onto some heavenly realm after she died. Let’s be clear, this discussion of ours happened over many years, not close to her death. We spoke about everything and always went deep. She’s someone who never withheld her truth with me and I with her. All subjects and secrets were shared. I told her, I’d already had a conversation with the Holy One and clearly stated my preference to NOT be coming back around. This lifetime has whacked me pretty hard and I don’t want to do anything over or again. I’ll miss love-making and cuddling with my husband, spending time with my friends and family, flower arranging and the flavors of food, but none of these are worth another round for me. I also have a deep homesickness for singing with the Heavenly chorus.
When I pray and I can go deep, I feel as if I’m touching the tiniest fringe of being in the Divine Presence and the longing I feel is in my cells and soul deep. I honestly can’t wait to be on the other side. This doesn’t mean I’m in a hurry to get there, but Olam Ha Ba/The World to Come, for me is a place of great light, comfort, Shalom/Peace and praise.
I told Jolie, I thought she was wrong, her memory of pain and suffering wasn’t wrong, but the idea that we have to continue suffering on the other side and repeat stuff just doesn’t resonate for me. So, I made a deal with Jolie. I told her:
“Listen if I’m wrong and you’re right, in another 300 years or so, when we’ve both been good and dead for awhile, let’s agree to meet up and you can point out the error of my ways and have a good laugh at my expense. If I’m right, then there will be no meet up, other than as we both recognize one another on the other side as two voices in a choir of Holy energies and voices soaring through the universe in great joy and wonderment. That’s what I’m looking forward to!” We laughed and she said some part of her hoped I was right and she was wrong.
I’m not worried, I know she’s free from suffering now. I’ve seen her soaring and felt her voice directing me. I have been grieving her hard and its been complicated by the fact that she made me the executor of her estate. So, I haven’t been able to cry or just be devastated because I’ve had to remain functional to ensure the care of her cats, home, and make sure her affairs don’t fall apart. But when someone you love dies and dies suddenly, you need to fall apart. So, finally I had myself a good cry and then I got a message from her.
I got a strong call from Jolie to go do a Mikveh and then to come home and have a fire circle for her. It’s January, it’s cold at the lagoon. It’s Covid times, having folks over is not recommended. But, Jolie, on the other side isn’t too concerned about these things. I’ve posted on my YouTube channel my post Mikveh thoughts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Be6vyEdEUQ&t=1s
So, I made a few phone calls to local folks who knew and loved Jolie to see if any of them wanted to come to the fire circle to sing songs and tell stories and cry. I’d set up the chairs six feet apart and provide hot soup and tea and some Irish whiskey too. It was a last minute decision and most folks were not able to show up, but two friends did, so it was perfect because three is a sacred number for me and for Jolie. Additionally, I let folks know we would be gathering and to light a candle or join us virtually in remembering her and so our circle was actually a bit larger.
A day after the circle I got an email from another dear friend of Jolie’s telling me that my message to hold a fire circle for her and do Mikveh came on the 49th day since her death. This is the day in the Buddhist tradition when the soul can leave the Bardo and is released for their next adventure, whatever that might be. So, even though I sensed she was free, she may also have been hovering around all of us who loved her and missed her and she chose to communicate with me in a sort of snub your nose kind of silly way by leaving her message with me on the 49th day since her death.
The spiritual technology that Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Native peoples and Jews have around death is profound. Different ideas and teachings and yet very similar practices in terms of honoring the dead and praying for them and making offerings and taking good, good care of the folks left behind.
This is true of any good religious community. We are not all the same in how we live, but we are all going to die, regardless of which tradition we grow up in or come into. How we cross that river is not up to us and what happens on the other side is truly a mystery. My certainty is not really a certainty, it’s a strong feeling, a kind of tuning of my soul with the other side. I’ve danced with angels and heard from folks who have crossed over. I’m very aware that the veil between here and there is a shimmery thin wisp of a thing. So, my visions and ideas feel right to me and sharing them with Jolie, helped her feel a little better about what might be the case for her.
Our last conversation was right before her mother arrived on Friday afternoon, the day after Thanksgiving. I told her I’d seen Jolie sitting at the base of a giant Mama Oak Tree with squirrels running and playing at her feet and gathering acorns and an eagle flying around in circles and keening a powerful song. She loved hearing this. We talked about whether she and her mother had to wear masks and I told her I thought they both needed to, since her mom was flying in from San Diego to Ashland and had been exposed to lots of germs. I was worried for Jolie’s health and for her mother’s. Jolie died two days later early Monday morning, with her mother present, most likely from a pulmonary embolism caused by the swelling and fluid in her body. It was terrible for Jolie’s mother to have to watch her daughter collapse suddenly and not be able to be resuscitated. Jolie did leave this world in a terrible way, terrible for those of us left behind who loved her.
I have so much more to say, but I want to tell the Winter Solstice in Ireland story, so now I’ll head back there. I was on my silent solo retreat, which was supposed to be a full year. I was writing to folks and got several letters from Jolie in tremendous pain. I decided to call her and when I did she asked if she could come visit for two weeks during Solstice and for the Christmas and New Years’ holidays, Hanukkah was early that year and had already come and gone. She couldn’t bear being alone for the holidays and wanted to be with someone she loved and who loved her and who she felt safe with. I prayed on this and got a strong sense that I should say yes. I’d been alone and on retreat at Holy Hill Hermitage in Skreen, Ireland for six months by that time. She got permission to come stay in one of the cabins on the land and she agreed to give me lots of spaciousness and to honor whatever my needs were for silence and quiet within the context of our visit. She just needed a friend and someone to connect to.
So, my sweet wild sister showed up at the Hermitage. I didn’t know it, until she got there, but my very loud, wild, Jewish self was desperately lonely for someone of her ilk. The monks, nuns and other hermits were all very fond of me, but regularly reminding me to keep my voice to a whisper or to slow down. There wasn’t a lot of interaction, but there were weekly optional Sunday lunches, cooked by the monks and nuns and work days when you could help out with the grounds or cleaning and some talking was required to navigate the tasks at hand.
When Jolie arrived, everyone sort of got it, this is Jewish, this is not just Nicole. Additionally, Jolie was with me during Christmas, which is always a less than fun time for me, for lots of reasons. Part of my healing journey in Ireland, involved coming into a deeper relationship with Christian practice from a truly Holy place, where the folks practicing were profoundly engaged and real practitioners. I’d already decided to cook Christmas dinner for all the folks who were at the Hermitage, so they could worship and no one would have to come down and do the cooking. Jolie helped me make the feast for our fellow hermits and that was both fun, ironic and silly. I told the community, I wouldn’t cook a ham, but I’d do a Turkey and all the fixins.’
Jolie also brought so much into my life that seems obvious now, but at the time just didn’t make sense or happen without her. So, for our Solstice gathering, she helped me make these orange and birdseed balls. I’d developed a very active conversation with my cabin’s bird visitors and loved feeding them and seeing them on the other side of my window while meditating. Jolie also had me drape and decorate the bushes and trees around my cabin, a very pagan thing to do! Luckily, my cabin was down a small hill and the flora around it was not too visible. Jolie liked being a rebel, so the Jewish witches, decorated the bushes around their silent cabins on Solstice for the faeries, angels and the birds. We also made a fire pit since there was no way she was going to go through the night of Winter Solstice without a fire.
So, behind my cabin we made a small circle of rocks and when it got dark we made our fire, wrapped up in lots of layers, and since it wasn’t raining, we sang and chanted and did powerful ritual. We shared and cried and danced around our fire at the Catholic monastery. Two Wild Jewish Witches being Wild Women together in the dark. This moment paired with cooking Christmas dinner for our Catholic brothers and sisters felt truly like a Tikkun/Healing for all the women, witches and Jews who had been thwarted, burned or killed at the hands of the Christian communities over millennia. Our solstice fire was a glorious reclaiming space kind of liminal moment of mirth, healing and wildness in the middle of a very sacred, kind and beautiful Catholic place.
Now, not only do I miss Jolie, like an ache in my gut, but I am also left missing the quiet and the dark I had there and what I call my bone time too. I miss the sounds of birds and water flowing in the stream outside my window and the wind, the whirling, whirling wind. Those were the only sounds I heard for months.
Here, where the noise is constant, and birdsong is a background to pumps, heaters, cars, humans in communication with each other and the cacophony that is a town, I think back to my time of Solstice quiet and shared solitude with the Holy Hill monastics and Jolie, my soul-sister who came to visit.
I make a wish and set my intention/Kavannah to one day be there again, in the quiet and the deep, deep nourishing dark, where I can dance again with the stars and sing to them and hear their refrain. Jolie won’t be with me in person anymore. Our rendezvous will now be in a few hundred years, or I’ll find her in all the spaces of my dreams and visions and when she calls out to me in the voice of the hawk, eagle, squirrel or flower that catches my eye and says, “notice me, I’m here with a message for you.”
I miss you Jolie, thank you for being my sister, my brave, wild sister.
If you’d like to share thoughts or memories about Jolie to add to this page, please send us your thoughts and anecdotes.
“To Jolie’s loving community, I am so sorry to hear of Jolie’s death, and I offer my heart-felt condolences. I only knew a little bit about Jolie, but it was enough to feel gratitude that a person like her was on our planet. It was with great delight that I watched a couple of tutorial videos she offered alongside Matt. I was immediately inspired by her spirit and style, and impressed with her depth of knowledge. I am really sorry I didn’t know her! But I actually do take what i learned in those 2 little videos, out to the world with me, as I also work with people to facilitate connection with nature, and deep listening. I’m interested in learning more about her work, and the oak ceremony! Gosh I am really feeling speechless at the moment. It must be very hard for you all. I am sure she’s with you also, singing with the trees.”
“Thank you, Jolie, for all the lives– human and non-human– you have touched and bettered. Your generosity and spirit will live on in our organization, Forests Forever in Berkeley, which you have so steadfastly supported over the years. Our thoughts are with you in your ongoing journey!”