Please Stop Peeing in Walden Pond

A new study shows that urine from Thoreau fans is altering the phosphorous content of the water

“The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges,” Thoreau wrote, on reading and reflecting at Walden Pond’s edge. That’s not all it’s mingled with, Henry. According to a new study published by the journal PLOS One and reported by The Guardian, the pure Walden water is also mingled with the sacred water of tourists’ loins.

The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of tourists’ loins.

Every year, half a million would-be Transcendentalists flock to Walden Pond to admire the site that inspired Thoreau’s 1854 meditation Walden, or Life in the Woods. They burn campfires, hang out on the beach, and well, pee in the pond. “More than half of the summer phosphorus budget of the lake may now be attributable to urine released by swimmers,” the study reports. And while there have been some important efforts to restabilize the shorelines and reduce soil erosion in the past 40 years, there are still significantly higher percentages of algae in the darkening sediment in the pond. These are foreboding signs that the pond could soon become “a murky, green stew of algae” Curt Stager, one of the authors of the report, explained to CNET. This is why we can’t have nice things.

Say what you will about Thoreau and his pseudo-solitude out in the wilderness while his mom took care of his laundry at home. But this isn’t the only time we book lovers, in our overzealous passion for the ephemera of our favorite authors, have caused some trouble. Other wonders of nature are also being trampled by book lovers: after the publication of Bill Bryson’s Walk in the Woods and Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, both the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail experienced record-levels of hikers who eroded and trashed the trails. This cramped everyone’s solitude style, but more importantly, killed loads of butterflies. Before the surge of Patagonia and Danner boot-clad lost souls, the Katahdin Butterfly flourished at the top of the Appalachian Trail in Maine. Now, the Katahdin Butterfly is endangered.

This isn’t the only time we book lovers, in our overzealous passion for the ephemera of our favorite authors, have caused some trouble.

And how can we forget about the reportedly “‘aggressive’” Hemingway fan who got too close to the six-toed Martha Gelhourn (the cat, not to be confused with the war correspondent and ex-wife she’s named after), one of Hemingway’s approximately fifty polydactyl cats on his estate in Florida Keys? When Martha Gelhourn bit her, the tourist had Gelhourn put into custody at a local vet to check for rabies. After determining Gelhourn was rabies-free, Gelhourn was released back into the estate’s custody.

Then there are the very conscious, on-brand literary acts of vandalism, like the perpetual defacing of Sylvia Plath’s grave in Hepstonhall, England. Her tombstone reads “Sylvia Plath Hughes” but “Hughes” has been repeatedly chiseled off, and the whole tombstone kidnapped by those who believe Plath’s relationship to Hughes was toxic and linked to her suicide.

Sylvia Plath Looked Good in a Bikini—Deal With It

What does all this say about how we care for our beloved literary landmarks? In one way, it illuminates how books can mobilize passionate readers to gather and makes literary worlds come to life after the book’s been closed. But another, graver suggestion comes from Thoreau himself: “A lake,” he writes, “ is a landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.” If ponds are anything like lakes, then our own depths are urine-drenched algae sludges. Looks like we’ve got some cleaning up to do.

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