A note from Patrick to Mom and Dad

I wanted to let you know that I will be at BOTH of Alex’s Celebrations, and I would be honored to share a short story or memory.  I really miss that guy.  When I close my eyes I can see his face, hear his voice, and feel his presence.  He’s right there.  I usually see him walking towards me with his arms open WIDE.  One thing I loved about Alex was, not necessarily the hug, but the openness of love.  He wanted everyone to feel loved.  It is something that had a deep affect on me, inspiring me to love more openly.
The day I met Alex, I will not ever forget.  The first few times hanging out were very surreal.  It was the Summer of 2009.  I came down to Corvallis to do some training, get into some good old Oregon hot weather (it just doesn’t get hot in Bellingham, I know, sounds strange to complain about.  I think my body likes sweating, and hot weather).  Staying at home with my family, doing bigger rides.  He was in town as well and we met up for a few rides.  Usually when a couple dudes get together and do a shared activity together, it takes time to build a bond and become comfortable with each other, it’s a forced friendship, until it isn’t.   I remember getting home from my first time really hanging out with Alex.  It was so easy.  Like we had done that before.  The bond had already been forged in a past life(?).  It felt like I’d known him for ages, when, in this life, it had really only been a few short hours.  I remember he was curious about my Karate and Qi Gong background and I was equally curious about his Bikram knowledge.  Honestly, since the first time we hung out, it was like I had just found another friend that I’d been friends with my whole life (lives?).
Another, albeit, selfish thing, Alex was really the only person that consistently commented on my blog.  http://patrickmeans.blogspot.com/      I haven’t made a post for years…  His comments just let me know that he was there, paying attention, sharing my/our experience of this crazy/amazing/inspiring/dark/light/huge/small magical world of life we all live together.
It is clear to me that Alex learned much about love and compassion from his family.  I see it, no, feel it, from you, Buzz, and his brother, Adam.  I have no doubt McHale is right there too.  Thank you so much for being his loving parents and family.
Love,
Patrick
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Notes to Alex Photos

A note from Dad, shared at Alex’s gatherings

Hello, my name is Buzz Berra, Alex’s father. Thanks to all of you, Alex’s Family, for being here today to celebrate Alex.

I was wondering what Alex would want to talk about today, and I think it would be what it is that brings him the most joy.

More joy than riding his bicycle 40 miles from Ashland to Mt. McLoughlin, then running up the trail and climbing to the summit and back down, all while wearing his cycling shoes with cleats, and then cycling home.

More joy than riding his bike 185 miles each way from Ashland to Bandon in one day for a Siskiyou school retreat.

More joy than snorkeling down the Smith River with his friends Beth and Sergei in a wetsuit through class 4 rapids.

More joy than swimming Whyte Nynsha style in the Pacific Ocean or Jackson Creek where he grew up.

More joy than making the most intriguing green concoction ever seen with his trusty Vitamix.

More joy than drinking an ice cold glass of watermelon juice after an invigorating run to the top of Mt. Ashland.

Of course, what brings Alex the most joy is his family- the one he was born with and his chosen family. Yesterday we had a Gathering in Corvallis with 150 friends and family at our home where Alex celebrated 32 Christmases and countless family birthdays, and where he spent many hours exploring the forest and creek in his backyard. It’s easy to see why he had such a love and respect for nature

And Ashland has been the perfect home for Alex- his chosen family and friends are amazing. We are so honored to be here today with all of you who share a love of Alex. We are all blessed to have you all share our son with us. I know Alex is overwhelmed with Gratitude to see all of you, his Family, here today.

Ten years ago, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Alex had recently graduated from college and was living at home at the time and teaching middle school in Corvallis. After surgery, I had to undergo radiation treatments, and when I got in my car every morning at 6:30, for 40 days of treatment, the first thing I saw was a big yellow post-it note on my dashboard…..written by Alex.

At age 23, he took it upon himself to encourage me, for 40 days without fail, to approach each day with positivity and a calmness of spirit to help get me through my radiation treatments. His note on March 3, 2005 read:

“God Morning my father and happy Thankful Thursday. A day to relish all that is around us and all that we have created. Friendships that feed us, children who look up to and are inspired by you, a house you created with your own hands and a home you created with your own heart. The beauty of nature is around us. The amazing gifts and energy each unique person brings into this world. Being able to be active and enjoy our bodies. The sunrise, our eyes.

There is so much to be thankful for.

Smile

Breath

Sun

Life”

And 39 more inspiring original messages from Alex just like this one, which helped bring me peace and comfort at a very difficult time.

After my prostate treatments, Alex decided I should get a bike and start riding to complete my recovery. Of course it wasn’t just riding the bike. He convinced me that I could and should ride to the top of the McKenzie Pass near Sisters, then to the top of Mary’s Peak outside of Corvallis, and why not to the top of Mt. Ashland, or even to the top of Mt. Constitution on Orcas Island. And then we did Cycle Oregon together and he inspired me to do a couple of century rides.

I told Alex he was the reason I even attempted these rides and was able to make it to the top of the mountains. He had a way of making me believe I could do it. Actually, I didn’t have a choice. I think most of you know what I’m talking about. I learned so much about myself from my son.

Alex always showed Gratitude for the blessings and the people in his life.

I would like to share a note that he wrote to us in his book of poetry and stories, “Gratitude”.

“Thank you to my Mother, Pat Newport, and my Father, Buzz Berra, who have shown me that when I feel my heart is full, all I need to do is make it bigger. You taught me about gravity and inspired me to create my own wings to fly. I love you.”

Thank you, Alex, my dear Son, you have taught me so much about life, and you have made my life so much fuller. Thank you for your 33 years that you shared with us, and for the treasure chest full of jewels that you have left us in your writings and moments spent togethe. I will love and cherish my time with you forever.

 

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Notes to Alex Photos

A note from Mom, shared at Alex’s gatherings

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Thank you for coming today to honor our son Alex and to honor our family. This is the home where Buzz and I raised our three children…McHale, Alex and Adam.

Together, we made this home…with all the wonderful and messy things that make family…all the birthdays, holidays, sleepovers, rites of passage. And the everyday business of life…making school lunches, dinner together each night, dragging the kids to church, doing homework at the kitchen table, tucking them in at night.

My humble part as a mother has been to teach my children to say yes.

Yes to tasting new food.

Yes to meeting new people.

Yes to smelling the flowers.

Yes to the sunrises and the sunsets.

Yes to trying new things.

Yes to gathering friends.

Yes to grabbing the brass ring of new adventures.

Yes to loving.

And for what little I have taught them…they have taught me volumes…about

Being still

Listening

Appreciating what we have

Being thankful for each day we are given

Following my heart

Letting it be

Simply having faith

Alex lived every day, every moment of his life with intention, with passion and with unconditional love. Love for everyone he knew or met…his family, old friends, new friends, perfect strangers. And love for this stunningly beautiful world.

Sometimes I think that Alex just couldn’t take a bite big enough of his wonder filled, magical world.

We found a yet-to-be-mailed postcard to his family in his van…Aloha from Durango! Having a great start to the gypsy Colorado road trip. Meeting up with old friends and getting in some truly spectacular runs. Feels like there are a few lifetimes of exploring and running to do here. Love, Alex.

I could tell you stories all day long…

About the day in second grade when the teacher called on each child to share their middle name and Alex without one, proudly stood up and announced Zander!

About his 16th birthday party when all the boys got into the dress up clothes and paraded down the stairs in drag.

About showing up at the start line of the Mt. Hood bicycle race with an old single speed bike, riders elbowing each other wondering who this crazy guy was…until he quietly passed them all.

About the day ten years ago when he was helping me plant a Japanese maple tree…he dug the hole slowly, as if preparing a bed, and when I went to place the tree in the hole he said, “Wait a minute Mom, you can’t just plop it in the ground.” And I stood in awe and love as he wrote a message to the tree, that it would grow and flourish and provide beauty and breath for us. He read the note aloud then burned it and placed the ashes in the hole THEN gently planted the tree.

About finding a load of firewood by the side of the highway in Ashland, borrowing a shopping cart from Bi-Mart at the nearest exit and carting it home.

About his recipe for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich…two and a half pages long, describing every detail of the feel, smell and taste of the bread, peanut butter and jelly.

About the time, several years ago, that I came into the family room and he was sitting on the couch just being…I asked “Whatcha doin’?” and he said “thinking”. So present in the moment.   What a lesson

Yes, I could tell you more stories…we want YOUR stories. Hearing your stories is our nourishment…your stories of crazy adventures, meals cooked, rides shared, hikes taken, skinny dips in mountain streams and ocean waves, cooking up zany business ideas, hooting from mountain summits, sweating in hot rooms. We want all of your stories of how Alex touched your life and how he inspires your path.

We set up a website, the address is on the card you have, and we invite you all to send us stories, photos, your memories, your expressions of love. If you are asking what you can do, visit Alex’s blog…stories of his adventures, running logs, poetry, recipes, musings on everyday life, photos, words beyond the wisdom of a 33 year-old. Meet him for the first time, get to know him better, introduce him to a new friend or simply enjoy his reflections on this marvelous earth and those who walk it.

“We should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of a double living, that we have henceforth to fulfill the promise of our friend’s life also, in our own, to the world.”

― Henry David Thoreau

Thank you for being present today.

Thank you for bringing your love and joy to this sacred place.

Thank you for loving our family.

 

Notes to Alex Photos

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE CHAMPS!

Last weekend, a band of the Whyte Nynshas and Sweet Melissas participated in the annual Siskiyou Challenge, a relay race in and around the great city of Ashland, Oregon. Alex was a loyal participant in the SC, and helped contribute to planning and mapping of routes. The race this year was dedicated to Alex, and some of his poetry was read before the race began.

For Team Whyte Nynsha, Patrick Means and Tom Payne cycled, Chad Woodward paddled, and Matt Crawford and Pete Wallstrom ran like madmen to come in FIRST PLACE!photo 1photo 3 photo 4photo 1photo 3

For Team Sweet Melissa, Beth Nolan and Deanna Lloyd cycled, Robyn Janssen paddled, while Amy Twiest and Heather Armstrong ran like hell…ALSO to come in first place in the women’s category.

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There was also a youth team, “A Day Spent Outside – Team Mr. NB”, comprised of Ron Lang, Michael Daole, Steve Schein, Bryon Devore, Scott Churchill and Jacob Kann.

Congratulations to everyone, seems like it was a most righteous time!

Photos Whyte Nynsha

From Cousin Craig

Alex, Alex, Alex

I was not ready or willing to say goodbye until now. I am sorry I could not mourn and celebrate your life concurrently.

As you will best understand, I took refuge from the pain in the mountains, rivers and oceans surrounding our home to contemplate your life and its passing.

To lose you was to lose a very special piece of me and the childhood we shared each summer with a decade between us.

I recall swimming in the pool at the lodge and then on a regular basis swimming the width of the lake as we had outgrown the man made boundaries prepared for us there. Resting on the far bank out of breath and during the first few attempts you resting on me as I back stroked us in to complete it.

I loved getting up early with you for hikes along the banks of the river where I introduced you to cloud busting and calling the wind at age 12 and the miracle of the present moment engulfing us in silence and peace.

You were special, open and receptive to a larger spirit. A love we both shared and lived to share with others.

There were several mountain tops we shared in your youth, many found off trail together. It seems that was the one path through life we continued to share, though we’re not aware of it in our adulthood.

I loved you like a child and brother, having none of my own back then. All my photos of us are filled with smiling and being close, a bond family has the luxury of building.

I recall staying up late at night and listening to your stories and love of rocks and experiments. I will never forget giving you your first whittling knife and teaching you as our grandfather had taught me to hold and use the knife to make the desired cuts.
A pile of chips you could stand on after a few hours, we had carved some quality spears and were off for the hunt in your parents forest and creek. The adventure was always ripe for the taking, and we often grabbed it together.

There was that time we were racing down the mountain on our mountain bikes and I hit the jump wrong loosing all the skin on my forearm and power washing the rocks out with your water bottle so we could keep going. The adventure was too sweet to miss or cut short.

I love you so much Alex and the history we share continues to be written here and now. Your presence and peace was clearly fostered to a remarkable degree as all your friends attest to. You will always live in my embrace and our smiles written on my heart will continue to shine until we meet again.

I bow deeply to you brother.

-Craig Fraser

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Notes to Alex Photos

A Note from Carl Niedner

I have many stories about Alex, but I will share one.   I once made the mistake of telling him about the railroad trestle I had found trail running in Ashland.   That, in itself, wasn’t the mistake.   The mistake came later.   Of course, as soon as I mentioned the trestle, I knew we were going there.   The thing is 200’ high in the center span, if it’s an inch.   They give you open steel grids to walk on, or the railroad cross-ties, with six-inch gaps.   The steel grids bounce and flex when you walk on them, and some of them are not completely tied down, and, if a train comes – which has never happened in the dozen or so times I’ve run across the thing, but is bound to happen eventually – then God help you.   So as soon as the word “trestle” left my mouth in Alex’s presence, I knew we were going there.   Word, deed, fait accompli.

The next morning, we decide on a hike rather than a run, and leave the car where the tracks pass near the road.   We hike in for an hour or so, and came to a tunnel.   This is a small tunnel, maybe 150 yards, and you can see light at the other end.   Immediately afterward is the steep shortcut trail that cuts off another two miles of track with a switchback and a Really Long, Dark, Curved Tunnel.   I start up the shortcut, and Alex asks where we were going.

Now comes the actual mistake.  Terminally honest, I explain about the shortcut, with a sinking feeling, instead of just lying and saying, “this is the way to get to the trestle.”

After a few minutes of friendly debate, we agree to go look at the mouth of the other tunnel, but there will be no coercion, and we’ll turn around and come back after we’ve looked.   As soon as he sees the mouth of the tunnel, Alex says what any of us could have predicted: “Oh, we have to walk through that.”

“Are you crazy?   We’re not walking through that.”   (Colorful, emphatic idioms omitted).     Try to visualize this: we are at the mouth of a tunnel built on a curve in the tracks.   It is, as a friend used to say, darker than a cat’s ass at midnight on a cloudy new moon in January.   Google Earth tells me that the tunnel is three quarters of a mile long, and curves 45 degrees in that distance.   And Alex wants to walk through it. “We’re here,” he says, “how could we not walk through it?”

“Very simply,” I replied, “we can turn our reasonable, rational asses around, walk ¾ of a mile back to the cutoff, and then hike out to the trestle.”

We continue in this vein for a few minutes and then I find myself in a very strange situation. I am old enough to be his father, for God’s sake, but Alex’s enormous personality somehow makes me the timid younger brother who would do anything for the big brother’s approval.   Of course we walk into the tunnel.   Of course, we have no light source.   Of course, within 200 feet, we can’t see anything: rails, ties, walls, each other, our hands in front of our faces and, least of all, any light from the other end of the tunnel.

It takes forever.   We check in periodically.   We figure out that if we each walk just inside one of the rails, we can probe the rail with our toes and figure out where to put our feet.   The experience of absolutely no discernible light at all is very, very strange.   I experience terror, both rational and atavistic. The rational terror is this: I have spent perhaps 30 or 40 hours running on these tracks, and never yet encountered a train, but given the idiotic thing we are doing, one is practically guaranteed to appear. And then?   I can think of a few choices.   One, lie down in the gravel, hands over head, and hope the train isn’t dragging anything. Two, stand in one of the pockets between two of the ten- or twelve-inch ribs in the walls, press my face into the wall, and try not to fall backward in the roar and the shaking and the gut-loosening terror.   Even thinking about Option Two makes my guts feel funny.   Option Three is to jump in front of the train and abbreviate the terror.

I don’t share this with Alex.   We trudge, trip, trudge and strain our eyes.   For a while, I walk with my hands straight in front of me, irrationally scared that I’ll walk into something that will poke my eyes out.   We don’t talk much.

At one point, I trip and almost go down. We stop periodically, thinking we’ve heard something.   Our eyes play tricks; one of us says, “stop!” and we both strain our eyes to see the light that one of us thinks he’s seen.   No light.

And then, finally, maybe there is a little light. Both of us think so.   Another few minutes, and we’re sure of it.   Not the end of the tunnel, but the faint outlines of the rails, a couple of hundred yards ahead of us.   We test by waving our hands in front of us: sure enough, the rails go away when our hands are roughly in the right position. We still have to walk slowly, because we can’t see feet, track or anything near us.

When we emerge a few minutes later, it doesn’t take me long.   “You bastard.   You’re totally impervious to fear, but I was more scared for the last half hour than I’ve been in twenty years.   I was sure the train was going to come and we were going to spend forever pressed up against the wall of that damn tunnel, crying for mama and pooping our pants.”

He replies, “Are you kidding?   I was petrified.   About ten minutes in, I could have sworn I heard a guy walking behind us and breathing.   I could hear your breathing, and my breathing, and then this third dude, in a completely different rhythm. I was sure we were about to get knifed in the back for most of the walk.”   That was the first I’d heard of it, of course.

Then he says this: “What a great adventure! Utter darkness and absolute terror!   Doesn’t it make you feel alive?”

Half an hour later, as we are staring down at the tops of the firs far below, he exclaims, “Wow! Isn’t this open space awesome?   We need to come back with a long rope and rappel off of this thing!”

Later, when the tracks come out of the woods near a freeway exit, he realizes where we are, and explains that we can take a shortcut to the car.   It does involve a bit of a mud glissade down steep hillside, and then running across I5. Oh, and scrambling over the concrete barrier in the narrow median.   As I wait on the other side of the barrier for a couple of trucks to roar down the grade in the far lane, I can tell, at the edge of my vision, that Alex, already across, is up to something.   As I sprint, I realize what it is and yell, “you bastard, don’t you dare!” as he clicks the shutter on his iPhone.   When I’m across, he shows off his picture of me in full sprint, raincoat flapping, with the back end of a truck just downhill.   “OK,” I said, “I won’t make you delete that picture… but Jeannie must never see it.”   He vows discretion.

That evening, after we had recounted our adventures and Jeannie had – of course – seen the picture, we fell to discussing that particular part of the highway.   He noted that he’d often ridden down it on his bicycle, as a shortcut back into town when he was doing repeat training on the brutal uphill to Mount Ashland.   That way, he explained, he could spend more time going uphill and enjoy a briefer, but more intense experience of going downhill.

“How fast do you think you go?” we asked.

“Probably forty-five or fifty.   But actually, that’s nothing.   Last month, I figured out that if I timed it exactly right, I could wait at the top of the on-ramp, and as soon as I saw a semi crest the hill, I could pedal as hard as I could, and hit the bottom of the ramp at exactly the right time to come up behind and draft behind the trailer.   If I’m about 30 feet behind the trailer, it just pulls me along as it gathers speed.   Half a mile down, we’re going seventy, easy.”

On a bicycle.   On a six-mile downgrade.   At seventy miles an hour.   If you mess up even a tiny bit, we inquired, aren’t you going to die pretty quickly?   “Oh, of course,” he replied.   “One time, I passed what I think was a bottle cap.   I realized if I had hit that, it would all have been over.   When you’re going that fast, you don’t even shift your weight like in normal riding; all you do is think, as gently as you can, about how you want the bike to move, and it does.   Everything quiets down and you get very focused.   You notice every breath, and you feel tremendously alive.”

The hard truth is that people who live like this – in the brilliant life that exists just a whisker from death – sometimes don’t live as long as we wish they could.   But thank God that they live!

Many of us need demigods, saints, to mediate for us in the life of the spirit.   The Divine Mystery is too abstract, and often too scary, for most of us to grok, most of the time.   Saints let us approach It in human terms.

So, let those of us who wish now canonize Alex in the cathedrals of our hearts.   Let him be our patron of open-eyed, stone-cold-sober, sacred madness.   Let him be our avatar of the unlimited friendliness in the diamond-clear Life that exists only in the immediate consciousness of death.   Let him remind us to invite a friend for dinner instead of working late; let him counsel us to do that utterly irrational, absolutely essential thing; let us follow his example and push ourselves until our eyes bleed, just because it’s fun.

I won’t ever be Alex, and it’s not my job. The race that he ran in 4:20 took me 6:18; he finished with a smile, and I couldn’t stand up.   I can mentor one young person at a time, and that from an arm’s length.   But I can bring a bit of him into my life.

At his memorial, I did maybe ten percent of what Alex would have done for me.   I packed four rocks from the Old Siskiyou Barn – a sacred and beautiful place near where Alex lived – to the memorial.   They’re a peculiar, glacier-smoothed stone that looks good enough to eat, and that Alex dearly loved.   Three of them bore the letters “L,” “O” and “V.”   The fourth is waiting to be inscribed with “E”, to replace one lost in a winter mudslide.

Then, as Alex might have done, I took them for a trail run.     Of course, I went 6 miles and 1200 vertical feet. Alex would have gone 60 and 30,000.

It was hot, and I was slow.

I stopped to take pictures.

Uphill

Here, the rocks and I pause to honor Sam Holmes, who was playing “Wild Horses” on the second-to-last switchback of Horse Trail the year I ran the Mac 50.   Then, when his daughter showed up, he strapped his guitar on his back and ran the last eight miles in with her.   Pretty Alexian, in my opinion.

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We made the top of Dimple Hill; this is the view that made me know I wanted to move to Corvallis, back in 2000.

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But the biggest lesson from Alex is that adventures are just punctuation between times with the bodhisattvas with whom we learn, laugh and love.

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Notes to Alex Photos