In my November advice column, one reader led me to learn about the gardening techniques of one of the Atlantic's greatest contributors:

I spend a good part of the day in my woods, planting trees. I'm usually far from the house, so I often relieve myself in the privacy of nature. But if I go several times in the same place, I notice that eventually all the vegetation in that spot dies. I thought I was making a healthy contribution to nature, but no, I am killing it! What's up? What's the toxic ingredient in urine?

H. I., Ogden, Quebec

Dear H. I.,

We at The Atlantic look to Henry David Thoreau, a frequent contributor to our pages (though, really, what has he done for us lately?), for guidance on all matters natural, metaphysical, and urinal. Thoreau, of course, spent much useful time in the woods, and he explains in Walden that, like you, he selflessly sacrificed at least one of his bodily fluids for nature's good:

I have watered the red huckleberry, the sand cherry and the nettle tree, the red pine and the black ash, the white grape and the yellow violet, which might have withered else in dry seasons.

Thoreau's special friend, the French-Canadian woodcutter Alex Therien, found other uses for urine. Thoreau:

I sometimes found the name of his native parish handsomely written in the snow by the highway, with the proper French accent, and knew that he had passed.

Your urine helps trees grow, as long as you water each one in moderation--urine's high nitrogen content makes it dangerous when applied too liberally to a single plant. As a bonus, if you can write your name in urine, you may be eligible to join the wholesome high jinks at Bohemian Grove.


We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.