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Quite the World, Isn't It?

A little gypsy jazz for your Monday morning

See, it's not always about books, history, and politics around here (or travel, for that matter). My sons, Michael (guitar) and Andrew (bass), at an open jam Sunday at an Irvine restaurant (the distortion from the bass was a problem with the camera's microphone).

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The Blue Hole: Scuba diving on the High Plains

Kids diving into the Blue Hole as divers begin a lesson. Photo/Scott Martelle
Well, I went 0-2 on selling travel stories this summer, and as with the Chautauqua Institution piece, I'd rather share this story here than have it fade away on my laptop. An outlet that was interested before I left on the trip was less so after a mid-summer budget adjustment, and I couldn't raise interest in it elsewhere. Not sure if that says something about journalism budgets these days, or my choices of travel destinations.

By Scott Martelle

SANTA ROSA, N.M – For a few minutes, I thought my friend had lied to me. Or at least maybe stretched the truth a bit. I had risen before dawn to catch the early light at a place called the Blue Hole, an artesian-fed pond out here in the middle of the high plains that, my friend insisted, was the most popular scuba-diving spot between the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

It was the anomaly that drew me: Scuba diving in arid eastern New Mexico, where annual rainfall barely breaks into double digits, the temperature often hits triple digits, and the horizon is as bleak and unbroken as an ocean.

So a few minutes after 6 a.m., hoping to take some pictures in the soft morning light, I pulled up to the park gate just a few blocks from old Route 66, Santa Rosa’s main street and lingering claim to fame. The gate was locked; Not a good sign. I tooled around town for a few minutes – in truth, that’s all you need to see the whole place – took some photos of a cemetery, cooled my heels back at the hotel then returned a little after 7 to find the gate wide open. A single motor home had backed up to a shaded picnic table on the far side of the dirt parking lot from the Blue Hole, and a couple of other people were walking their dogs.

Nary a diver in sight. I should have figured divers in a desert was too good to be true, even though my friend, M.E. Sprengelmeyer, owner of the Guadalupe County Communicator weekly newspaper, had promised me it was so. I parked and waited, the car door flung wide to catch a scant breeze as I entertained evil thoughts about my friend and his tales of the Blue Hole scuba divers. I finally gave up around 8 a.m., and as I drove toward the gate, I glanced at the motor home and there, hanging from the rafters of the picnic shelter, were two wetsuits swaying in the morning breeze. Nearby, Doug and Crystal Lang were going through their safety check ahead of their morning dive.

Ah, I thought, Sprengelmeyer doesn’t lie.

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Mountain flowers, and a few other plants

Finally loaded up some curated photos of wildflowers I took during our three week trip up and down the West Coast. The route was up the Big Sur, through the Humboldt redwoods, into Portland, Ore., then Seattle; cruise ship up the Inside Passage as far as Skagway; back to Seattle then to Mt. Saint Helens, through the Columbia River Gorge to Kennewick, Wash., then meandered south to Crater Lake, Mt. Shasta and Lassen Peak, then the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada through Death Valley to Vegas, and on home.

Next installment: Whale photos. Enjoy.

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On Alaska, ice, and other photos

For the past week I've been out of reach of handy Internet access, aboard a cruise ship sailing the Inland Passage through British Columbia and southeastern Alaska. Friends over the years have reported back on the inexpressible beauty of the place, so our expectations were high. And they were exceeded. It really is spectacular.

Part of the trip was a side run up a fjord called the Tracy Arm, near Juneau. The deeper into the fjord we went, the more mesmerizing the scenery became, until we stopped within view of the face of the Sawyer Glacier - and in front of a field of ice floes. The captain of our ship, the Norwegian Star, explained later that he decided not to move closer because he feared he wouldn't be able to turn the ship around. It was windy and cold and wet - and beautiful.

In Seattle now, with a talk and signing set for this afternoon at Elliott Bay Books. It will be hard not to talk about Alaska, too....

(This is a slide show and could take a bit to load depending on your browser and Internet link).

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Summer road trips

I've been spending some time on the road this summer -- one of my favorite things to do -- and have more travel to come. Margaret and I leave next week (burglars alert: Leaving our two six-foot plus sons and the dog at home) for a three week driving/cruise trip that will take us up the West Coast and into the lower Alaskan waters. Yeah, we're looking forward to that.

Part of the trip is work; I'm doing a talk and signing in San Francisco on July 20, and again in Seattle on July 31. Hope to see some of you at those events.

Meantime, here are some photos from my recent trip through Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada, which included my appearance at the annual Ludlow memorial gathering at the Ludlow Massacre site.

Enjoy. And let me know what you think.

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Taking a road trip into the past - join us Sunday at Ludlow

The Ludlow Monument. Photo: Margaret Mercier-Martelle.
I leave tomorrow to spend a week or so on the road doing some freelance stories during a trip framed around a tragedy - the 1914 Ludlow Massacre, the event that launched me on the path to writing books.

Regular readers here know the basics. During the 1913-1914 Colorado coal strike, 11 children and two mothers died when, at the end of a daylong gun battle, Colorado National Guardsmen torched the Ludlow tent colony. The women and children were hiding from the bullets in a hole dig beneath the floorboards of a tent; as the fire raged above them, it sucked the oxygen out of the air. As tragic as the deaths were, they were only a fraction of the 75 people who were killed during that strike, most of them shot to death in the most violent showdown between labor and capital in U.S. history.

Yet few remember this moment. A few years after the Ludlow Massacre, the United Mine Workers union bought the site of the tent colony and have managed it as a roadside spot of reflection, and homage. In recent years, at the end of June, the union has hosted a memorial service to try to keep alive the memory of the dead from that day. It begins at 10 a.m. Sunday at the Ludlow Memorial site a short drive north of Trinidad along Interstate 25. I'm honored to be part of the line up of speakers this year.

Despite winning designation as a National Landmark a couple of years ago, the Ludlow Massacre remains a forgotten moment in U.S. history. That's partly, I think, because it happened here in the West, while our collective national memory is East Coast-centric. And I say that as someone born in Maine and raised and educated there and in Western New York. I came with an east Coast bias, in other words, but after more than a dozen years living in California I’ve come to recognize that, in a historical sense, the nation tips eastward. Which makes sense. The United States began in the East, and the bulk of our formative history lies in the East, so that’s where our memory is focused.

But more significantly, Ludlow is forgotten because it involved labor. And that's a dark hole in our collective memory. Workplace safety, the eight-hour workday and the 40-hour week, health insurance and retirement plans and everything else that we find ourselves once again fighting to protect, those all began with the labor movement. And as the strength of labor has faded, so have those hard-won benefits - and the middle class along with them.

That old maxim seems to be coming true, that those who forget the past are destined to repeat it. Let's hope we don't wind up repeating tragedies like Ludlow. Let's hope all this national anger, frustration and class division builds into something positive.

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This is cool beyond words

A few years ago, when I was still a staff writer for the LA Times, I wound up in Alaska for a political corruption story, and drove up the Turnagain Arm, which, like the Bay of Fundy in Canada, has very bizarre tidal bore waves (not tsunamis). These dudes surfed them. For five miles. Like I said, beyond cool ...
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Pete Postlethwaite, and a great movie scene

I was sorry to awaken this morning to the news that British actor Pete Postlethwaite had died. He had a very distinctive, and remarkably non-Hollywood, physical appearance, and a long resume that will be trotted out in obituaries today (or easily found on IMDB).

For me, his best film moment came in the woefully under-appreciated Brassed Off, set in a British mining town whose mine was facing closure. The movie looks at the effects of the events leading up to the decision through the prism of the "colliery band," and efforts by Danny (Postlethwaite) to keep the music playing as the miners' lives crumbled.

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The year ahead

It seems fitting that I'm starting off a year on the binary date of 1/1/11 waiting for files to write to my new wireless backup drive, which makes me sound a whole lot more tech-savvy than I really am (no installation comes without sputtered adjectives of the impolite kind; good thing computers don't have feelings). But while I'm watching the little loading bar click from left to right, I'm also looking ahead to what should be an interesting year.

My second book, The Fear Within: Spies, Commies, and American Democracy on Trial, is due out in May, though it likely will be available in mid-April. My third book, Detroit: A Biography, is due to the publisher April 1 (likely out in the spring of 2012). And I've already begun poking into a possible topic for the fourth book. Meanwhile, I'm off to Detroit next week for three more weeks of research and writing, then am signed up to teach two journalism courses during the Spring semester at Chapman University here in Orange County, which is a lot of fun (anyone interested in hiring a full-time journalism and nonfiction writing instructor, let me know).

I've already signed up for two book festivals, the Literary Orange on April 9 at UC Irvine, and, April 30-May 1, the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, moving this year to the University of Southern California campus (used to be at UCLA). Still forming plans for the launch of The Fear Within, which may involve some New York City appearances. And Margaret and I, looking ahead to our 25th wedding anniversary in August, are planning a summer trip to Alaska.

So it's a busy year ahead, and it was a busy year in the rearview mirror. I hope you all have a lot to look forward to this year, too. Read More 
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Holiday greetings: Our year (briefly) in pictures

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