Erica Shane

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During a year abroad in Budapest, Hungary as a college student, Erica Shane decided what would be important in her life.

It made a deep impression that riding the street car meant being surrounded by people carrying musical instruments. Here was a place where the arts, literature and music were highly valued and played a role in daily life.

Shane spent her time mixing with local academics, playwrights and other creative people.

"She really appreciated their culture — that it valued and made time for the arts — and she made those thing paramount in her life," her sister, Heather Shane of San Francisco, said.

At the time of her death Tuesday, Erica Shane, 34, was living in a small house nestled in the rural hills of Glen Ellen, surrounded by grasses, lavender, roses and space to roam.

She was unemployed but committed to volunteer work with the Wine Country Film Festival and Sonoma County Medical Association's Alliance Foundation Garden Tour.

She had her books, and two beloved birds, and a car she could wander the countryside in, but not much else in the way of material things, Heather Shane said.

She loved being outdoors, taking long walks and bicycle rides, and it would be just like her to chance by a raging waterfall and stop for a hike and a better view, Heather Shane said.

That's apparently what happened Tuesday afternoon, some time before a Sonoma County sheriff's deputy investigating a car parked awkwardly on Fort Ross Road near Cazadero Highway hiked up alongside a turbulent creek and found Shane's body.

"She wasn't a driveby looker," Heather Shane said.

Sheriff's department investigators have determined she drowned, but have not yet completed their investigation.

Born and raised in Benett Valley, Erica Demarest Shane was the younger of the two daughters born to Janet and Michael Shane.

She was a 1993 Montgomery High School graduate and attended Cal Poly University in San Luis Obispo before transferring to UC Santa Cruz, where she graduated in 1997.

She studied in London for a quarter during her first year of college, and then as a junior at Santa Cruz spent the year in a Budapest.

She studied political science, but after graduation went to work at the Institute of Reading Development in Novato for a short time. She then went to Austria for a 2 1/2-year stint as a teaching assistant and tutor.

After returning to Sonoma County, Shane pursued a variety of vocations, including commercial baker while living with her sister in San Francisco in 2003 and 2004.

She returned to Sonoma County where she found a lifestyle in Glen Ellen that suited her better.

"She followed what was true to her, which would change over time, as it does with people," her sister said. "Sometimes people just stick with what they're doing, but she followed what was really true to her."

Until last year, she was an account coordinator for Hugh Futrell Corp., a development firm.

After being laid off, she decided to wait out the sluggish economy and develop her public relations and fund-raising skills with the film festival and garden tour.

"What she really enjoyed was the reaching out and meeting new people, and learning with them," Heather Shane said.

In addition to her sister, she is survived by her parents, Michael and Janet Shane of Santa Rosa.

Family members planned to have Shane cremated and to scatter her ashes in places she held dear.

A memorial service will be planned for later in the year.

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