Poet, environmentalist and quirky creative activist Mark Baumer, 33, was walking along the side of a highway in western Florida on January 21, 100 days into a barefoot walk across America to raise climate change awareness, when an SUV driver veered out of her lane and struck him. He died at the scene. The Florida Highway Patrol said charges will be filed against the driver.
“When I began walking I had an urge to stop traffic until all the roads in America died,” he wrote in his last blog post chronicling the trip. “One day everyone will be able to walk down the middle of the road free from all the violence this society has built.” Bauman’s death reminds us that this day is not yet here, and makes all pedestrians and opponents of America’s car culture feel a little less free.
Baumer had begun the walk in October from his Providence, Rhode Island home, clocking over 500 miles to Ohio before being felled by weather; the de-icing salts strewn on the roads stung his feet so badly that he took a bus to a similar latitude in Florida and picked up the walk there. He had completed a previous walk across the country in 2010, covering 2500 miles in 81 days, chronicling the journey in a memoir titled “I am a Road”.
In Providence, Bauman worked at the Brown library as a Web specialist; he had attended their selective M.F.A. program, after earning a B.A. in English at Wheaton College and growing up in Durham, Maine. He had published numerous books and poems, and won a poetry fellowship from the Rhode Island Council of the Arts.
Yet writing was inextricable from living, for Bauman, and he often undertook creative adventures like the walk just to generate material. “There’s nothing more uninspiring than just staring at a blank Word document,” he told the Brown Daily Herald. “A lot of times when I can’t think of anything to write about, I’ll just do something.” The walk raised funds for the FANG collective, a grassroots environmental group in Providence, and had doubled its goal of $10,000 in the days after Bauman’s death.