Alter Egos

Thomas Hopper - English Teacher, Eagle Hill School
Alter Egos spotlights an EHS student or staff who has a hidden, awesome talent; who has
interests that lie off the beaten path; or who has had a life experience that others would benefit from hearing. It interviews Pioneers who are becoming the best version of themselves in order to inspire others to follow suit. In the first installment, I sat down with David B. ‘16 to talk about his passion for farming and the deep ties he feels to the earth.

Where are you from?
Stockbridge, Massachusetts, way out west. My family’s been there, I don’t really know how long. My grandmother’s parents had a farm there, and my grandfather’s parents were local to the area for at least a century. She bought the farm in the eighties, and has been very successful with it.
How did you find out about EHS?
Public school just wasn’t working for me, so we looked at all these alternative boarding schools,
but none of them felt right. I visited Eagle Hill the summer after my freshman year, and I was
pretty pumped about it, but there weren’t any kids here. I liked the facilities, especially the wood shop because, at the time, with my academic experience with public school, I was thinking seriously about doing something trade related.
Like carpentry?
Carpentry, yeah, because the most positive experiences I was having at the time were on the
farm. Then I went backpacking in Colorado, [where I was] out of communication, and my
parents had to decide to sign me up, and they did.
So, back at your old school, you felt as if it was the farm that was giving you purpose?
Maybe “purpose” isn’t the right word; “success” is better. I had a lot more success working
outside. I liked the farming and the skiing, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. I didn’t have good friends to go hang out with, and I wasn’t doing well in school. I had a string of really bad
teachers in a row.
So if you had bad teachers in school, who taught you the ways of the farm?
The farm [consists of] my grandmother, Lila Berle, and her helper Joel, who’s in his 60s. They
taught me pretty much everything there.
When you say “everything,” you mean. . .
How to drive a tractor, how to cut brush, weed whack, work with the animals, worming the
sheep. I’d come in for a day or two during the winter to help with the lambing.
Wow. And this was while you were in school?
Yeah, over the summers mostly. So starting when I was twelve, before going into seventh
grade, was when I started. Mostly for about two weeks, just as something to do over the
summer. As I got older and more accustomed to it, they started relying more and more on me
and my brother.
Oh, you have a brother? Older? Younger?
A twin! [laughs] That’s awesome!
Yeah it’s great. We definitely have bonded a lot [through farming].
Tell me about the lambing.
We do it in the winter because that’s cleaner, and there’s less [chance of] disease. During
summer, you lose a lot of lambs from disease, so we just have to worry about the cold. The barn is L­shaped, and we fill it up with these little pens with hay and food and water. The ewes are outside, and we just have to be very alert: as soon as one lamb is born, we grab it, and instead of trying to push the mother in, we just pick up the lamb and the mother generally follows. That depends upon how much experience the mother has, but generally she will follow into the warm pen. Sometimes the mother rejects the babies or dies, and, up until a few years ago, my grandmother would bring the orphan lambs to her house and put down newspaper. So I grew up visiting my grandmother and having lambs running around.
And the orphan lambs will grow up to be just fine?
Yeah, they were definitely just fine, but you could always tell which ones they were, because
they ran in packs. They stuck together
And what other animals do you have?
A few ducks and geese, and maybe twenty to thirty cows. Scottish long­horns. Big guys. A few
of those had to be bottle-fed. Those guys have a very special, strong connection with people.
They’ll come right up and hang out. Let us pet all over them.
How many acres do the cows have?
Probably thirty? There’s a big pond right in the middle. Some of it is wooded. The land would
have rotted the sheep’s hooves, so the cows were resistant to that.
Really? I’ve never heard of hooves rotting. What causes that?
The dampness. It gets very boggy. Similar to trench foot, and it just spreads.
What kind of soil would sheep thrive on?
Rocky. Nice, fertile soil. Not too moist. Traditional lawn works. We’ve sold a few sheep to
landowners to keep the brush down and fertilize it at the same time [laughs].
So how often do you get back to the farm now?
I usually [rest for] three or four days when I get back from school for the summer, then I start
working. At that point it’s full-bore, five days a week, baseline eight hours, but that varies. What
I’ve done recently is, between cuttings, I’ll take some time off. Like last summer, I took three
weeks off and went to Alaska.
With Outward Bound again?
Student Conservation Association. Instead of backpacking, we had one [base camp], and
worked on the trails around it.
Is that something you want to return to?
Yeah definitely. It works better once I’ve graduated college, but it’s an easy, paid way to be
outside. For me, it takes the tourism aspect out of the national parks where you’re actually
giving back. There’s a much stronger connection to the area when you’re waking up to it every
Where do you see farming in your future? Your family’s future?
Well, my brother doesn’t see it in his future. I. . .the big conversation is what to do with the land once my grandmother can’t do it anymore. I think I’ll pass it up, because I want to do a lot of exploring and traveling, and I don’t want to be held down to this one patch of land that I grew up on. But I’m also really interested in sustainability.
What if you changed the focus of the land, from farming to education or conservancy?
It’s not something we have thought of, but education could be a great way to use the land.
There are schools nearby. It’s all in a conservancy trust, so whoever gets it can’t build on it.
That’s something our family has put a lot of time into, making sure it’s not getting developed.
The sad part is that the surrounding properties have been gobbled up. Their values increase
when they know they won’t look at a house on this hill.
Are these developments, or private residences?
Big McMansions. We don’t see people in them, very often.  Summer homes, we think. [pause]
Later on in life, I’d like to get to a point where I own a few animals, and get some vegetables
from my yard.
Have you brought kids from Eagle Hill back to your land?
Um, no. I’m always a little worried that I’ll run into someone [from campus] in town, because the town industry is tourism. When I go into work, I’m not really tourist worthy. But it’s a little project I’d like to work on, bringing my friends back before I graduate.
This sounds like a story that you just won’t hear in twenty years.
No. It’s also worth noting that my house was also built by my grandparents in the sixties or
seventies, on a big plot that my grandfather used to farm independently from my grandmother.
That has also been put into conservancy trusts.
How’d your grandparents meet? Is there a story about that?
I think they grew up next to each other. [laughs] And again, so rare that happening now.
They gave each other a lot of space with their own separate farms. Things would have gone
south if they’d tried to work together. They were married, but then went to their separate farms? Well, my grandfather wasn’t really a farmer as much as he was a lawyer. He did a lot of
environmental work. That’s how we got the land we live on­­he bought a lawsuit, rather than
buying the rights to the land.
I see. So, for the record, you’re going to college next year?
Yep. Colby. Well, most likely. In Waterville, Maine.
Staying in New England?
Well, actually I’m spending a semester in Spain first semester. Salamanca.
Wait, what? Then you’ll come back in the winter and start normal school?
[laughs] Yeah.
[laughs] That’s gonna be great.
Yeah, I’m really excited.
And if someone said, “What will you study? What does your life look like to you right
now, at eighteen,” you’d say. . .?
[no hesitation] Environmental science. Or ecology. Maybe marine biology. Something natural,
related to the land.
Right. In some sense, you being at Eagle Hill is your alter ego, and Farm­David seems to
be your true self. Is that­­
I would definitely say that.
Yeah. I do a lot of stuff on campus, but before I rowed, I joined the cross-country team on the
promise of running through the woods. That wasn’t really fulfilled, but­­
Dude, you can just run through the woods, you know? Just go!
[laughs] Yeah. I like the trails. And then being out on the water is another big part of it for me. I
would definitely say that my alter ego is here at Eagle Hill. ***
Lambing, land conservation, and big, affectionate cows: one learns a lot from talking with David! How appropriate that David achieved academic success at Eagle Hill, whose campus was founded within the rich agricultural history of Hardwick. David has a noble drive to care for the earth, whether on the farm, on the trails, or in a science lab. Now that he has begun to discern his environmental calling, he can continue exercising the vocation that lies deep in his family’s roots. As David’s story illustrates, what we see as our alter ego may be, upon reflection, our true self. 
P.O. Box 116
242 Old Petersham Road
Hardwick, MA 01037
Phone: 413.477.6000
Fax: 413.477.6837

Eagle Hill School

An innovative approach to LD education in a classic New England boarding school environment, where diverse learners achieve success.