Mark Baumer ’06, a fiction writer, poet, and environmental activist who was walking barefoot across America to raise awareness and fight climate change, passed away on Jan 21, 2017. Baumer was walking westward along the shoulder of Highway 90 in Walton County, Florida when he was hit by an SUV. According to the New Yorker, he was said to be wearing a high-visibility vest at the time, and walking against the traffic, in accordance with safety conventions.
Mark Baumer grew up in Maine. At Wheaton, he majored in English and was a skilled baseball player on the college’s baseball team. Baumer has said that Professor of English Charlotte Meehan’s Writing For Performance, which he took as a senior, changed his life. Meehan commented on Mark’s writing, “His writing was pure, crazy, philosophical, funny, poetic and original. He held on to his beautiful heart in his writing, which is what makes it so special and unique.”
Baumer’s environmental activist journey, “Barefoot Across America,” started in Rhode Island on Oct. 13, 2016, with an aim to walk barefoot, on a plant-based vegan diet, all the way to California. He set up a fundraising campaign for a Rhode Island-based environmental organization called the FANG Collective and he used videos, photos, and his unique writing—social media posts, diary entries, poems, etc.— several times, every day, to track his journey.
Meehan had been actively following Baumer’s mission. “He brought a lot of attention to climate change, which is an overwhelming problem. I greatly appreciated and admired what he was doing…but I was worried about him too. He was doing something important and in a peaceful manner, but very hard on his own body. I asked him to come home in December and he said no.”
Baumer’s last web diary entry, “My hundredth day on the road” marked a milestone in his mission to save the earth. Indeed, he started walking again the next morning, but on that 101st day his journey met an unexpected and tragic end. People continue to post responses to his 100th journal entry and other photos and thoughts, mourning his passing away. Wheaton’s English department plans to hold a memorial reading on March 8 at 4:00 pm in honor of Baumer.
“Some people follow a career in writing. He wasn’t doing that. He was following a life in writing. He tried to use his living self to protect other life forms, including the earth itself. That was a huge and generous ambition,” said Meehan.
Coach Eric Podbelski of Wheaton’s baseball team expressed his regrets and said, “I would encourage anyone to research Mark on the internet and take a peek at his blogs, videos and poems, etc. His commitment to what he believed in is truly inspirational.”