Walking and Remembering

I’ve been thinking about walking. Admittedly, thoughts like these have their origins in reflections backward to this time one year ago. Mark said “goodbye” to his house at 38 Pleasant Street, and walked down the hill on his one-way street commencing yet another cross-country journey into the unknown. He’d done a similar one in 2010, but this one was different in a host of ways.

He let readers know some of the reasons why he was making this trek. I knew the road had been calling out to him across the expanse of the previous six years since he stepped into the Pacific after wearily making his way across the sands of Santa Monica Beach at the end of that epic march.

Mark wasn’t the first writer who’d been drawn to the realm of walking. Perhaps the obvious name that crops up when talking about writers who valued the walking experience would be Thoreau. There have been a host of others. There seems to have been some deeper, intuitive connection between walking, thinking, and then, writing. We of course have by-and-large lost this. I’m sure part of this stems from being immersed completely in our American version of Happy Motoring.

I found an older article in The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik. He details how at one point in the mid-19th century, walking was actually “the dominant spectator sport in America.” Could be that if enough fervently patriotic football fans abandon the NFL, then walking might make a comeback? That would be a shame because if there was a figure who could captivate fans of professional walking, it would have been Mark.

Beginning a cycle where I plan to watch each one of Mark’s 100 videos he made from Day One through the final one he posted last January, I’m happy to champion the Mark Baumer Walking Fan Club. While I’ve watched them all before, I’m pretty sure this new round of viewing will offer up treasures I missed the first time. However, spending time with these videos is also sad, reminding me yet again that we’re now in a season of anniversaries related to missing Mark. October 13 is simply a starting point of sorts.

On Friday, close friends, some of Mark’s Brown library co-workers, union colleagues, activist brethren, along with members from literary arts, as well as MFA buds celebrated Mark’s writing, walking, and uniqueness. They invited Mary and me to join in. This all was rolled into Josiah Carberry Day at the school. To say it was emotional or special doesn’t do it justice. To everyone who showed up and celebrated Mark, we send a heartfelt “thank you!”

Remembering is hard. Anniversaries are difficult. But knowing that Mark was someone who affected so many people helps ease the pain a bit.

We’re very grateful that a tree was planted and a plaque will be added in Mark’s memory in front of Rockefeller Library. We now have something to look forward to in the spring when the Eastern Red Bud blooms.

Planting a tree for Mark (what it should look like when it blooms in the spring).

The Kindness of Strangers

I met Richard one morning early in 2016 at the Bath Y. He was a regular and I’d see him per my routine early swims, usually Tuesdays and Fridays (or sometimes Thursday, if I couldn’t swim on Friday).

The Y is similar to other places where I’ve worked out in the past (like Auburn’s Planet Fitness)—the early AM workout crowd tend to be creatures of habit and generally, a little older. We’re there to get our reps/laps/miles done and then, it’s off to whatever the day throws at us. Across the context of two strangers’ paths crossing, a bond sometimes develops. You see the same person week after week. Unless you’re a misanthrope, you’ll have a conversation or two. Before long, seeing that person becomes part of the routine.

Richard’s 14 years older than me. That means he fought in Vietnam, is nearing retirement, and has accumulated a bit more life experience translating into wisdom. He’s solidly middle-class, probably a tad more conservative than I am, but I know he didn’t vote for Trump, either based the accumulation of our AM conversations.

There was something inherently likable about him. He was a no BS type of guy, and I have always had an affinity for males of that stripe. As the months passed, I found out he was working part-time at The Home Depot in Topsham. He’s “retired,” but like many seniors, retirement now means holding a job to supplement retirement savings—Americans are living longer and longer and staying topside costs slightly more than chump-change. Continue reading

Cycle of Life

Last November we sold our house in Durham where we’d lived for 26 years. This felt like the start of a new chapter. It was, but the narrative soon turned dark.

Landing in Brunswick on a beautiful tidal cove was exciting at the time. Being new to town, I envisioned capturing elements of our new home with a series of post based on weekend forays about the place. Then tragedy intervened. Life along the cove became framed by abundant morning light that simply permitted holding on.

A mile and a half from our house there is an older cemetery. I knew nothing about it until passing while running one morning in December. My new route took me westward from our new place, out Coombs Road. I immediately knew the road to be an ideal alternative providing a side loop away from busy Route 24, where I could enjoy my surroundings and not worry about dodging cars and trucks roaring along at highway speeds.

Purington Road, which abuts the cemetery, also dead ends at a gate on the east side of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station. The road, like much of this area, is bordered by chain link fence and warning signs left behind when the town answered the military’s every beck and call.

From RootsWeb, I found this description of the cemetery, known as New Meadows Cemetery:

New Meadows Cemetery is located on Purinton Road and borders the Naval Air Station. This part of Brunswick was farming country known as New Meadows before the Naval Air Station occupied the area. Old records describe it as located on the North side of the road to Great Island, about three miles from Brunswick village. This road is now part of the Naval Air Station.

Doing a minimal amount of digging revealed that the area around Purington and Coombs Roads was once a thousand-acre town commons that was once the New Meadows neighborhood. There are historical records that show there were four homesteads dating back to 1739. What locals know about the area if they know anything is that it’s framed by the recent past following the Navy’s encroachment (and significant contamination) of 90 percent of this section of the community that formerly consisted of farms, grist mills, and brick and carriage makers.

Father and son, forever.

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When Disaster Strikes

When loss hits you, your world is turned upside down. Whether the loss involves death, or in places hit by hurricanes and other kinds of disasters where people are displaced from their homes, stress and the subsequent emotional and physical effects target the victims.

A key element in ensuring health and harboring the hope for longevity requires learning to manage and mitigate stress. That’s easier said when you are observing stress from a distance. When you are in the midst of swirling waters either literally or figuratively, remaining detached and free from roiling emotions and a knot (or pain) in your gut is nearly impossible.

Disasters bring out the best and worst in humans. While now personally acquainted with the personal variety, natural (and national) ones are often magnified by the media. They serve an important function for programmers—ready-made stories that fill hours of air time, with advertisers happy to fork out marketing capital to capture fixated eyeballs.

Speaking of capitalizing on disaster, our sitting president is someone who has done well capitalizing and exploiting the misfortunes of others. I’ve mentioned Sarah Kendzior before. She nails it in this article by Nancy LeTourneau on our Exploiter in Chief being our “ultimate disaster capitalist,” a master at reveling (and profiting, handsomely) when others are in the midst of chaos and suffering. Make sure you click on the links provided in the quoted snippet, too. This isn’t false (or “fake”) propaganda, but a telling measure of the man we elected as our 45th president. He’ll surely find a way to profit from the fates of those in Houston like he has throughout his business career. That’s the Trump MO.

Trump spent his business career eagerly anticipating both social and economic disasters. “I sort of hope that happens because then people like me would go in and buy,” Trump said of the housing crash in 2006. Before that, Trump spent decades exploiting the damaged economies of towns like Gary, Indiana and Atlantic City, leaving them as bad or worse off than when he arrived.

America’s 4th largest city, underwater. [Aaron Cohan photo]

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Moving On

I was deeply affected by the events in Charlottesville. Many of the emotions I experienced in a visceral way, were flashbacks to Janaury, when Mark was killed. Another young person, with passion and concern for others, was senselessly killed by someone selfish and self-centered.

While there were a host of stories about Heather Heyer, an activist described in one as “a passionate advocate for the disenfranchised,” there was a sameness and quality to these that all made them read similarly after awhile. Her story deserved more. Too often, Heyer became an afterthought, as once again, media made it about “All Donald, all the time.”

Foolishly, I thought I could add a different context, one that was unique and personal, based upon our own journey over the past seven months since Mark’s death. Continue reading

Pain in the Gut

For weeks after Mark died, my stomach hurt. Searing pain, centered in my gut.

Then, winter turned to spring. We made a pilgrimage of sorts to California. Upon returning, I was thrust into the school umpiring season and then, it was summer and more baseball games to arbitrate.

Mary decided to embark on training to get ready for the Tri for a Cure. She returned to work. I got dumped from one of my jobs. Life continued, without Mark.

How does one normalize that which isn’t normal? Life missing a portion of your heart, a family unit in mourning, and now, it’s tourist season and everyone’s life is filled with the seasonal things we all know and love. Except it’s hard to find joy when your life is turned upside-down and you continue reeling.

Our gut is part of the nervous system, known as the “brain-gut axis.” According to an older issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter detailing the effects of stress and abdominal pain,

“our brain interacts with the rest of the body through the nervous system, which has several major components. One of them is the enteric nervous system, which helps regulate digestion. In life-or-death situations, the brain triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response. It slows digestion, or even stops it completely, so the body can focus all of its internal energy to facing the threat. But less severe types of stress, such as an argument, public speaking, or driving in traffic, also can slow or disrupt the digestive process, causing abdominal pain and other gastrointestinal symptoms.”

Stress causes disruption of the digestive process. Since Mary and I have been on stress overload continuing to deal with the details of a life sans its guiding force here during summer’s height, I guess I know why my stomach is hurting again.

Stress can cause pain in the gut.

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Hope in the Dark

It’s easy to grow discouraged in this life. Adversity—whether it’s an illness or failing health, economic stress, loneliness or isolation—or in Mary and my case, losing Mark suddenly and tragically: elements like these can grind even the strongest person down, and make them want to give up.

The case can also be made forcefully that the charge that many of us were given when we were young that life in America would be better for us than previous generations is no longer a reality for most. We’ve just elected a president who is at best, a boorish and self-centered man unlike anyone who has sat in the oval office prior. Some believe however, that our current president is an authoritarian with designs on dismantling what remains of our nation’s functionality and crumbling civic and physical infrastructure.

Peggy Noonan, someone with legitimate Republican bona fides calls Mr. Trump, “Woody Allen without the humor” in an op-ed written for and published in the Wall Street Journal. She paints him as a pathetic and weak little man. She’s probably right, although don’t understimate the damage possible by “weak little men.” It’s also far too easy to locate our reasons for despair in one man or a devastating life event.

In the midst of walking a personal path buffeted by discouragement and sadness, I’ve noted how many others are dealing with their own dark journey. In my own grief, I’ve recognized this collective sense of loss all around.  So fellow travelers, why so sad?

Rebecca Solnit is an American writer and activist. She’s been engaged in environmental and human rights campaigns since the 1980s. Her writing is informed by a life lived with boots firmly planted in real life and direct action work, not academic posturing. Maybe that’s why her book, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, has made such a strong impression on me over the past two weeks as I made my way through it. Continue reading

Finishing the Walk

I haven’t thought a lot about Mark’s walk for a few months. That’s not to say that I haven’t thought about Mark. A day, nary an hour passes when I don’t think of him, especially when I see a picture of him somewhere in the house.

On Sunday, I was working the bases during a Twilight League game and I looked up and saw the moon, pre-dusk. I thought of a tune I’ve heard countless times by Xian rockers, The Violent Burning. The chorus line, “if you ever reach the moon before I do, wave goodbye.” I imagined Mark waving to me planted on the grass of a baseball infield. It was hard not to tear-up and hold it together. I had to because that’s just life—plus, “there’s no crying in baseball,” at least according to Tom Hanks.

Holidays without Mark are tough. Monday and Tuesday were rough days for Mary and me. They always will be.

Today, after completing my tasks for the day around noon and dreading waiting around ‘til tonight’s umpiring assignment, I dug out my 2017 Rand McNally Road Atlas. For some reason, I take comfort looking at the map of where Mark walked and then, projecting the potential route he would have taken west from where he was killed. Continue reading

Rainy Mondays

For a year now, I’ve been leaving the house at 8:00 in the morning and spending part of my week working at a part-time job that helped supplement my income and offered a bit more than most part-time gigs tend to proffer. That all ended last week.

Once again, I’m sitting at home on a Monday, in an empty house (no offense to our cat, Lucy), wondering what’s next on the horizon. The last time I found myself in this place of uncertainty, I could always send an email, text, or call my biggest fan and cheerleader—that would be Mark Baumer. Today is also Mary’s first day back at work since Mark died, so there’s a bit of a double-whammy effect.

I’m not sure what happened other than my son was killed, I probably went back to work too soon, and my manager lacked the capacity for empathy. I dared to point that out. That’s the Cliffs Notes version, anyway. Continue reading

Memorializing Mark

Our Memorial Day weekend centered on burying the remains of our son, Mark Baumer. In case you may have stumbled across this blog and lack context, Mark was hit and killed by an inattentive driver in Fort Walton County, Florida on January 21. He was an award-winning poet and writer, and was engaged in his second crossing of America on foot. He walked across the U.S. in 81 days in 2010.

Because of the newsworthy nature of Mark’s walk, his cause (raising awareness) about climate change, while also walking America’s highways and byways barefoot, the story of his death received widespread media coverage. In my opinion, this article in The New Yorker was the best of them, written about Mark by a writer, Anna Heyward, who made an effort in understanding the arc of the story, and “got” Mark, as a creative genius and activist, also.

Mark’s been gone for four months. For Mary and me, his parents, our lives continue to be affected each and every day by the grief associated with this loss.

Losing an adult child that you loved more than life itself isn’t something that you simply get over in four days, four months, or four years. Yet, there are people at work and elsewhere with unrealistic expectations who don’t seem to understand the devastation associated with an event like the one visited upon us.

Here are remarks that I delivered at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Saco, on Saturday morning, prior to interring Mark’s remains:

For the past four months, I’ve been trying to locate meaning for why Mark was killed. I’ve been unsuccessful on that front. How does one imbue an event with any meaning, like the one that robbed our families of Mark, a loving, vibrant 33-year-old?

Mark loved baseball for a time in his life. In fact, baseball is where we may have ultimately forged our bond as father and son. In baseball terms, a 33-year-old is in the prime of his baseball abilities and acumen. In a creative sense, I believe Mark was just hitting his stride as a writer, poet, and digital gadfly.

Why would someone who worked so diligently and was ever at their craft, cruelly taken away before they ever got to the zenith of their creative capabilities? Perhaps you now see why finding meaning has been so difficult a task for me since the end of January. Continue reading