Mark Baumer was an award-winning poet, committed activist, devoted family member, and compassionate friend to many. He was in the midst of a cross-country journey—the second he’d undertaken in his young life. This crossing had a larger purpose—Mark’s cause this time was raising awareness about climate change, while simultaneously raising funds in support of FANG, a nonprofit organization and activist group in Providence, Rhode Island that he was a member of.
Oh, and he’d be doing the walk barefoot.
On January 21, 2017, Mark had just chronicled his 100th day on the road that morning as was his daily habit, utilizing various media platforms—something he’d been doing since leaving his house in Providence on October 14. At approximately 1:15 p.m., Mark was struck and killed by an SUV driven by Sonja Moore Ziglar, along U.S. 90 in Fort Walton County, in Florida’s Panhandle. He was walking legally in the middle of the paved shoulder, against traffic, wearing a fluorescent vest, on a long, flat straightaway. Mark was killed on impact when Ziglar’s vehicle left her lane and plowed into him at highway speed. He had turned 33 a month earlier, the week before Christmas.
THE LOVE OF THE GAME
From an early age, passion fueled whatever he was involved in. Baseball became an early outlet. From Little League, all the way up through Division III baseball with Wheaton College (Massachusetts), he excelled. His junior year at Wheaton, he was named First Team All-New England as a DH/1B, leading the Lyons in home runs, RBIs, while batting over .300.
After playing his final game for the Lyons in 2006, which happened to be the championship game at that year’s Division III College World Series, he walked out of Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton, Wisconsin, and never played another inning of organized baseball. Instead, he channeled the drive, work ethic, and enthusiasm he had for baseball into writing, performance art, and later, direct activism. In 2009, after living in Los Angeles, California for two years, he returned to his native New England, after being accepted into Brown University’s Master’s of Fine Arts Program in Literary Arts. This was a life-changing event for Mark that is now clear to see in retrospect. It was at Brown that he began honing his literary skills, while coalescing many diverse and disparate interests that included writing and poetry, video-making, performance art, and what some defined as zaniness, or just plain “weirdness” (like when he ate pizza every day for three months).
In 2010, during the summer heading into the second year of his graduate program at Brown, he decided to walk across America for the first time.
Mark was captivated by the road and the challenge of covering wide swaths of the country on his own two feet. His first cross-country walk began at Tybee Island, off the east coast of Georgia in May. He traveled a Southern route, stepping into the Pacific Ocean at Santa Monica Beach in July, accomplishing the trek in 81 days! He chronicled the walk in a self-published book that he released just prior to the most recent walk, “I am a Road”, which is available for purchase via PayPal.
Friends, co-workers, former faculty, and members of the greater Providence community paint a portrait of a young man who cared deeply about people, the planet, and social justice issues.
While Providence became his home, Mark was actually born a Hoosier, in Hammond, Indiana. His father had moved the young family west in an ill-fated foray into fundamentalist Christianity, and to attend Bible college. Later, the family returned to their Maine roots, settling in Durham. Mark attended Greely High School in Cumberland. He was an honor roll student and excelled at baseball and hockey.
THE WRITING CRAFT
At Wheaton, in addition to plying his talents on the diamond, an English class with Professor Charlotte Meehan lit a spark and piqued an interest in Mark that would continue to be fanned by various adventures and eventually flowered during his two years of graduate work in Brown’s Literary Arts Program.
In 2012, Mark became a permanent member of the Brown community when he began working at Rockefeller Library, as a web content specialist. Later, he was part of a labor negotiation team, serving as a shop steward with the library workers’ union, United Service and Allied Workers of Rhode Island. They lobbied for and were successful in negotiating a new contract with the university in 2015.
2015 was also the year he embarked on a project to write 50 books in a year. This is what he wrote about it:
“In 2012, I asked the internet for $50,000 so I could write fifty books. The internet didn’t give me any money. I ended up writing the fifty books anyway. I published them all on amazon.”
The first one was published on June 3, 2012 and book 50 landed on December 10, 2012. He’d accomplished what he’d set out to do.
His book, Holiday Meat, won the Quarterly West Novella Contest in 2015. Later that same year, Black Warrior Review recognized his poem “b careful.” They had this to say about the poem:
Here we find a sequence of good and bad and bright ideas from the mind of a poet who grins “It feels illegal to write the way I write sometimes.” This poem is the brash and unnervingly unpredictable person with whom you very much hope to spend a whole party. Reading it, I filled up with glee and anticipation for what would come next, or, to put it in the words of Eliza Doolittle, “I could have danced all night and still have begged for more.”
ACTIVISM IN ACTION
Then, in early 2016, Mark was feted by the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts with a poetry fellowship. The award allowed him to ask for (and be granted) an unpaid leave in order to hit the road barefoot, to walk across America, seeing to heighten awareness about climate change. For Mark, climate change was the single most important issue facing humans.
Mark was a plant-based vegan who didn’t own a car. He walked, biked, or ran most places. When he needed to travel outside Providence, he most often boarded a bus. He was first and foremost a passionate advocate and devotee of Earth.
Not some trust fund kid, or an aimless drifter, Mark continued paying his mortgage and bills from the road, as he was a Providence homeowner. Often, he’d chat with his best friend and housemate, William, about mail that came to his house on Pleasant Street, deciding what items needed his immediate attention.
There are countless Mark-isms that could be culled from his prodigious online content, but this might sum up his life and pursuits as well as any.
“It’s amazing how often we all forget this is the only opportunity we are ever going to have to live this life.”
Mark Baumer seized that opportunity and maximized his all-too-short time on this earth.
The Mark Baumer Sustainability Fund seeks to serve as a monument to Mark’s passion and values. We also have a goal of being a beacon of light in a world that’s often too dark, too cynical—doing good and modeling kindness, compassion, and love. That’s what I think Mark would want us to do as a way of carrying on without him.
YOUR SUPPORT MATTERS
CROSSING AMERICA BAREFOOT
Mark chronicled his entire trip with video, 100 days worth. Each video was a story within a story on what was an epic journey cut short.
This is what a barefoot walker packs for a walk across America.
Day 042: Pre-Thanksgiving Road Feast
Mark actually didn’t have a feast on Thanksgiving last year. Today (the day before Thanksgiving), he’s in his motel room in Somerset, Ohio.
He went out to a local market, Cascio Fruit Company located on Somerset’s Main Street. Back in his room, he treats us to a beautiful example of how someone all alone, away from home, can get so excited eating fruits and vegetables. That was Mark!
Day 098: Meeting up with other travelers crossing America
Three days before he’s killed, Mark says “I’m going to stop being funny.” He meets two cross-country cyclists who tell him that they’ve met some of the best and worst people they’ve ever met.