Introducing Trees with the Fur On

Welcome to Trees With The Fur On, a blog about how outdoor experiences like trail running, bushwhacking and getting lost and dirty keep me sane and grounded in an otherwise increasingly insane and ungrounded world.

My father's 1950 edition of The Maine Woods, the one I read while I developed my own relationship with the North Woods.

My father’s 1950 edition of The Maine Woods, the one I read while I developed my own relationship with the North Woods.

“Trees with the Fur On” is a reference from Henry David Thoreau’s Chesuncook/Ansell Smith’s section in his book The Maine Woods. I’ve always loved the full quote “For beauty, give me trees with the fur on”. It came to me, like most things that stay with you, at exactly the right time in my life. I had returned to Maine from college out of state, and was working for Maine Bound, the outdoor program at the University of Maine. After an October canoe trip down the East Branch of the Penobscot River, I read the Maine Woods in its entirety. I had tried to read it before, but it just hadn’t taken. This time however, after tracing my footsteps and a canoe strokes in Thoreau’s words, I dove into the book and absorbed it totally. Further trips down the East Branch, the WestBranch and through Chesuncook Lake were deeply enriched by reading about Thoreau’s own experiences in the same places.

I say this was exactly the right time because after coming back to Maine and finding my “people” (after 20 some odd years of looking) in the outdoor education community, I was ready. Ready to carry a pack up over White Cap, Saddleback, the Crockers and Old Speck. Ready to follow a compass and lead teenagers on an off trail bushwhack through spruce and fir thickets, and come out of the woods exactly where I intended us to. Ready to paddle across Chesuncook Lake under the wide starry dome of an August night. Ready to carry my canoe around the Hulling Machine, Pond Pitch and Grand Pitch. Ready to stand atop Katahdin in January. Ready to ride my mountain bike around the Bigelows, and get hopelessly lost. Ready to ski into Pogy Pond to sleep in a lean to. My work during that period of my life brought me far and wide, to places like Moab, Utah, Ecuador, and Lesotho in southern Africa, but the time I spent in the North Woods of Maine was deeply formative.

These days I’ve given up full time outdoor education for a more “adult” job as a full time science teacher. This means I have less time for North Woods adventures (at least during the school year) and more incentive to seek out adventure here at home. Most of the time that outdoor time is trail running in wild places. I started running trails because my dogs needed exercise, and I wouldn’t take them on the road. I keep running trails because, well, my dogs still need exercise, and more importantly, I realized that I hate running with cars and pounding pavement. Like thousands of people before me, I have come to understand that moving through the natural environment is a deeply human experience, perhaps the ultimate human experience, and feeds the parts of us we neglect in our frantic modern lifestyles.

As to what exactly “trees with the fur on” means literally? Thoreau was commenting on a log cabin built in the woods, with bark and lichen still on the logs. For me it means anything in its natural state, alive and squirming, rotting or blooming, covered with ferns or moss or mud. We say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I lean towards a more fundamental beauty, unaugmented and born from the soil and sky.

This isn’t a standard trail running blog. I’m not going to detail how far I ran, what I ate or what my shorts were made of. I’m not an ultra runner, so you won’t hear about my blisters or toe nails falling off. I’m not particularly interested in techy gear or the latest running shoe trends, and you won’t find me reviewing expensive recovery drinks. Expect instead posts about what I thought about while I ran through the woods, accounts of any outdoor experience that got me dirty and made me feel more alive, and most importantly, encouragement and resources for YOU to get inspired and head out the door yourself. In fact, do it right now. Turn off your computer and put down your phone, pull on your sneakers or boots and go!

Sarah O'Malley

About Sarah O'Malley

Sarah is a science educator, naturalist, writer, tide pool fanatic and burgeoning obsessive trail runner. From personal experience she believes strongly in the restorative power of contact with nature, especially experiences that make your heart beat a little faster or get your hands and feet dirty. She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula with her husband and two dogs.