“It wasn’t food for the body alone that was being raised out there. I t was food for the heart. And the heart is starving in America.”

The quote is from an essay written by a Wyoming rancher, who after a sojourn in Babylon returned to Eden, an essay in which he reminisces about the beauty of the land, about his elders wrenching a living in the wild place,   about how marvelous they were and about their “codes of interdependence, plain honesty and their general, though nearly invisible, kind of love….”

Every heart starves that is divorced from the land. It does so because every heart’s memory is the depository of the history of life, which history’s bed and stage was nature and its waters, forests, prairies, skies, stars and the whole spectrum of life from tadpole to whale and from rose to redwood. No man or woman can stand on the shore of a sea and not feel a nostalgia or watch a sunset and not oh at its beauty or sit on a winter’s evening before a fire and not feel an inordinate security. The subconscious, within which resides eons of ages of the struggle of life and its moments of joy and sorrow, is an ineradicable influence dictating acts and emotions that are often seen as irrational relative to the environment man has built, an environment that is more often than not at odds with nature’s and thus with the one   from which man emerged.

Man is nearest God in nature and the farthest from God in his city, man’s impudent answer to God’s lack of foresight. Nature unbefouled by man is beautiful, inspiring, glorious and inviting. If one sees there so much as a beer can or a cigarette butt, the prayerful and inspirational spell is broken. The city has   beauty or glory only inasmuch as it imitates or incorporates nature. Most of the city is meretricious, trashy, tawdry, grotesque, ugly and repellent. Nature is honest, fair, frank, impartial and absolutely impervious to solicitation, flattery, bribery or religious ritual.

The city is built on the premise that man can do better for man than Nature did. But, if man had evolve through the ages in an urban environment, his heart would be alien to the one nature has given him. It would insist that whatever it longed for could be bought, inveigled, coerced, or gained through nepotism, politics, chicanery or bribery without subsequent negative consequence and that nature is the preserve of man to consume, despoil and pillage at his whim and discretion. He would thirst not for water from the springs of the hills but for some fizzy, sweetened concoction mixed in the basement of   a calculating chemist. What heart there is in the city is the residue of nature’s creation.

America’s heart is starving, because America has moved to the city, put machines to work for it, engrossed itself in sex, drugs and carnivals   and despoiled the countryside for its ease and luxury and destroyed it for the superfluous and the vain. In effect, it has killed its heart and soul, its immortal self, for an orgy of materialism of short duration.

“The man who disappears into the city becomes merchandise. All the inhabitants of the city are destined sooner or later to become prostitutes and members of the proletariat. And thus man’s triumph, this place where he alone is king, where he sets the mark of his absolute power, where there are no traces of God’s work because man has set his hand to wiping it out bit by bit, where man thinks he has found all he needs, where his situation separated from Eden becomes tolerable—this place becomes in truth the very place where he is made slave. And a remarkable slavery it is since already we see him subject to the power of luxury and money. By his own work he dispossessed himself of what was left of himself; he became an alien — for the benefit of money and government, themselves diverted from their original usefulness. And the place where all these metamorphoses take place — a place well worthy of magic enchantments — is the great city.”   From “The Meaning of the City” by Jacques Ellul.

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (, and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation ( I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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