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Palm reader

Two palms burst into flame following a lightning strike in L.A.'s Echo Park this past weekend.
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Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain / And all the children are insane / waiting for the summer rain, yeah” – “The End” by The Doors

FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. – In the opening scene of the 1979 Francis Ford Coppola film Apocalypse Now, the audience is shown a line of palm trees in what is presumably Vietnam, all while the sounds of helicopter blades are heard as the ominous opening chords of The Doors song “The End” plays, like something out of a nightmare.

As a helicopter passes by, the palm-choked jungle bursts into an explosion of brightly-colored flame and choking black smoke.

The scene then merges into a view of a drunk and troubled Capt. Willard (Martin Sheen) in Saigon, staring at the ceiling fan, spinning like those chopper blades. Even if you haven’t seen the film before, your sense of dread grows as Jim Morrison sings about “weird scenes inside the goldmine.” Willard has been given an important mission that will take him into the heart of darkness.

I was reminded of that famous opening scene and those blazing palms when I saw a photo, passed around on Twitter, of two palm trees (twins) ablaze in a torrential downpour in drought-stricken Los Angeles. “Waiting for the summer rain,” indeed. Accompanied by Mother Nature’s violent side – the “riders on the storm.” We mustn’t forget …

As the website Gizmodo noted: “Author Colin Dickey spotted this palm tree on Instagram, where you can find others on the east side of the city who were a bit startled by the apocalyptic imagery flickering just outside their windows.”

The palms seemed to be speaking to me during my trip to Florida's Emerald Coast. It's a beautiful stretch of beach and the palms are plentiful. And while I've been here a number of times before, the palm trees stood out in a way that I had not previously experienced. And I wasn't sure why. It was as if these tropical trees were trying to tell me something. 

Over at, Red Dirt Report columnist Shane Smith, in his piece “The Dangerously Vague Romance of War,” warning that this current crop of presidential candidates are “hawking hyper-militarism under the guise of national greatness.” The burning palms of wars past and present – be it Southeast Asia or the Middle East – are warning us that humanity is careening ever faster into utterly unhinged madness and global annihilation on nearly every front.

Writes Smith: “That hazy collage of feel-good nationalism is trotted out every election year, and every candidate engages in it to one degree or another.  Peace is a hard sell next to the belligerent effusions of a Donald Trump.  His crazed rantings against immigrants, his bizarre fantasies as to how he would handle world leaders via telephone call, as well as his boorishness in general, has thousands flocking to hear him speak.  But what they’re cheering is an avatar of a blood-soaked ideology, one that cloaks itself in the native symbols and culture, breeding hate and intolerance, until the bilious nationalism reaches just the right temperature and then boils over into lawless fascism.”

And in the Vietnam War (and wars before and since), "top men" have sent young men into the meat grinder of mayhem and death. Note Trump's deferments during Vietnam and yet he is quite bellicose about bombing this place and that if he were in the White House. Nothing changes. It's all madness.

The burning palms also reminded me of camera footage of the nuclear inferno at Bikini Atoll in 1954 during the Castle Bravo test, where the helpless palm trees are incinerated by the hydrogen bomb blast that enveloped that corner of the otherwise peaceful Marshall Islands.

And this as we recognize the 70th anniversary of the Trinity atomic bomb test in New Mexico and the upcoming anniversary of the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.

As the palm tree fire lit up L.A.’s Echo Park, a woman named Laura Zak tweeted: “Massive lightning storm in #EchoPark caused this fire out our window. Is this the end of days?

Living in Los Angeles these days (or really any part of the United States or the world), you can't help but wonder.

Recall the mysterious death of courageous investigative journalist Michael Hastings (read our review of The Operators here) and his takedown of powerful U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Hastings was involved in a bizarre car crash in Los Angeles – into a palm tree in Hancock Park (five miles from Echo Park, incidentally), where it burst into flame. Red Dirt Report is of the opinion that Michael Hastings (like many other investigative journalists before him) was murdered.

The palms know.

Tree of Life

And while this burning palm tree imagery is disturbing, there is an esoteric side to it. The Assyrians and Egyptians considered the palm the “tree of life.” And that date palm is associated with the sun god Ra.

As noted at this website: “Additionally, in alchemical traditions, the palm tree is a symbol of androgyny as it possesses the perfect integration of both male and female attributes. This concept plays out in the esoteric archetype of the High Priestess found in the Tarot. The palm tree, as depicted in this card, demonstrates the intent of the Priestess to amalgamate the realms of the seen and unseen – mixing them into a whole vision with a  goal to dispense for the betterment of humanity.”

In Apocalypse Now, as Willard confronts Marlon Brando's Kurtz (who keeps copies of The Golden Bough and From Ritual to Romance at his bedside), the mission is nearly complete and the whole vision is coming into focus. "Even the jungle wanted him dead," Willard says in the narration. Coming full circle, "The End" begins to play as Willard prepares to kill the madman in his palm-choked lair, in a bloody, sacrificial frenzy. The whole vision is complete, but there's that whole part about the "wilderness of pain." 

Rough days ahead.

The horror. The horror.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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