It’s pretty easy to spot Haley Mahar ’16 from afar. Usually she is walking briskly across the science quad underneath the hood of her puffy, bright red L.L. Bean jacket. We met last semester in a geosciences class, and I was surprised by how she somehow knew pretty much everything about local geology. When I learned she was born and raised in Williamstown, it all made more sense – her familiarity with the area, the campus and the L.L. Bean catalogue. Haley was able to escape Williamstown for her last two years of high school, which she spent at an even more rural boarding school in New Hampshire. Now, back in the bustling metropolis of Williamstown, I caught up with her about the New England life and her fear of taxis.
So, between growing up in Williamstown and attending boarding school in New Hampshire, you’ve never lived anywhere near a city, right?
No, even Pittsfield scares me. And that has 40,000 people. North Adams is kind of scary too.
Have you ever been in New York City or Boston and been like, “What on earth is going on?”
I went to New York once. I was there for 24 hours, and it was the most overwhelming thing that’s ever happened to me. I was looking up at the Empire State Building and I ran in to a pole and got bruises. [Laughs.] It was really painful. I’m a little bit more familiar with Boston because I have family there, but it’s still pretty freaky. I don’t think I could ever live in a city.
Do you consider yourself outdoorsy?
I like to think so, yeah.
Maybe not super crunchy, but definitely outdoorsy. I try to be crunchy but I think I fail sometimes. I carry my Nalgene around with me, stuff like that.
[Laughs.] The sign of –
The sign of crunchers.
I hear you went on a road trip in July – that’s pretty crunchy, no?
Well, it was more of a nomadic month for me. I went up to New Hampshire for the weekend with one of my friends and the plan was to just be there for the weekend. So I left on June 31 and I didn’t come back to Williamstown until July 29. And I was only supposed to be gone for three days. I was wearing the same clothes for the whole month – that was pretty crunchy. [Laughs.] I had to have my mom give me more clothes. So I ended up spending an extra week in New Hampshire, then went to Stowe, Vt., went back to New Hampshire, then went to the Cape for the third week, then went to ski camp in Vermont for the last week.
That’s one of the most typical New England experiences I’ve ever heard of.
Except we had to drive through Boston at the end and that was terrifying – there was so much traffic, and we were lost. I was thinking the whole time, “This is not safe.”
So, would you say you don’t really have any street smarts? Or can you get street smarts in a rural area?
[Laughs.] I think we just know different things. Like, you’re from Chicago so you know … well, you’re just more familiar with being in a huge city. And you don’t get scared of taxis.
You get scared of taxis?
Well, I don’t get scared of them but taxi drivers will run you over because you’re just another person. You know? But then, being in a city, I also feel like you become more independent faster. And better at living life with other people.
I hear you tell people your prime was in sixth grade. What made you peak then?
So at my school, sixth grade was still in elementary school and that was the oldest grade, so once you got to sixth grade, you were the oldest kids in the elementary school – super cool. And you got to do this musical at the end of the year and all these other cool things, like a class trip to Cape Cod. [And] I had around five – no, 20 boyfriends.
Five, or 20?
Definitely more like 20.
That is a lot for the sixth grade!
[Laughs.] Oh, no everyone was just like, “Oh it’s Haley, all the boys like her.” But it was sixth grade dating. You would date for three days and not talk to each other and then break up. Pretty solid collection of those relationships. What else was really cool? Oh, I had braces, which was big. Everyone loved the braces. And I had a good role in the musical. Just a great year overall.
When you’re out and about on the streets of Williamstown I’ve seen you with a really cool princess backpack – what’s the backstory on that?
So, I got it for $7 because I was a kindergartener for Halloween my senior year [of high school]. I didn’t expect to really use it after Halloween but it turned out to be the perfect size … And so then I brought it to the College and everyone at Holderness [my high school] told me I wasn’t going to make friends if I used it … but they were wrong.
Who is your favorite princess on the backpack?
Cinderella. She’s my favorite on the backpack, but also my favorite princess ever … I really like Ariel too. She’s a mermaid, which is sweet.
I feel like there are some parallels there, she also can’t really function around other people, or on land, in cities …
[Laughs.] Yeah she’s much more home in the water and I’m much more at home in the woods.
So what do you want to do with your life? Move to the wilderness?
Well, I’m studying English, but I think I want to be an architect.
You’d be okay with building cities but not being in them?
Interesting. Well, with the backpack and all, it seems like you’re “killing it” this year … I hear you say that a lot.
Yeah, generally I try to have something that I kill on a daily basis, but I also get killed on a daily basis, so it’s kind of a give-and-take.
It’s really a phrase you can apply to anything. Maybe your rural upbringing has instilled this, like, animalistic impulse or something in you.
Like Hunger Games! [Laughs.] My life is like survival of the fittest. So true.