I talked with the Hawaii Nature Conservancy’s executive director, Suzanne Case, in July 2007 for “What I’m Reading” (WIMR). Born in Hilo and once the first female student body president at Punahou School, Case’s first job may have been washing airplanes for Panorama Air Tours in Honolulu, but now she tackles invasive species, and making choices crucial to the future of the planet. Find out why she’s reading about Volcano memories and the Hawaiian Crow.

What I’m Reading | Suzanne Case
Executive Director, Hawaii Nature Conservancy

Q&A with Christine Thomas

–What are you reading?

I just finished Volcano: A Memoir of Hawai’i by Garret Hongo, which I enjoyed personally because his family ran Hongo Store in Volcano Village after World War II and we used to ride our bikes to Hongo Store when I was a kid on the Big Island. It’s a fascinating unraveling of old Japanese family mysteries from Nu`uanu on O`ahu, and orchid and vegetable farming on the Big Island. And side by side of these are beautiful descriptions of being in the Hawaiian rainforest, which I love being in.

And now I’m reading “Seeking the Sacred Raven: Politics and Extinction on a Hawaiian Island” by Mark Jerome Walters, which is about the `alala, the native Hawaiian crow or raven. My brother Ed picked it up for himself but he gave it to me first because its all about the Kona forest where we do conservation work. … The Nature Conservancy Kona Hema preserve is a potential reintroduction site so it’s nice to see a story on the `alala.

In my quiet time I like to read some of the Chinese Taoist masters, and I just like to read little bits at a time. I like them because they reinforce how I like to work and the Nature Conservancy likes to work . …

–Your brother introduced you to one, but how did you discover Hongo’s book?

I think it must have been when I was in Volcano. It’s a very fun book to read because it’s his memories from when he was little and his adult experience of being in the rainforest around Volcano. And I have the same—I have memories from when I was little and things that I enjoy now as an adult. …

–Do you gravitate most towards books on Hawai`i?
I like to read Hawaiiana, I like to read books about Hawai`i a lot. I have broad interests but I do like to read about Hawaiian culture and history and sometimes novels when I can find novels about Hawai`i. When I fall asleep I like to listen to Hawaiian language on my iPod, and classic poetry, too. That’s neat because those kinds of things can’t really be read in print—they need to be listened to. …

–Just as Hongo’s book connects memories, are your efforts meant to perpetuate both Hawai`i’s past and future?

Yeah, there’s continuity to it and kind of a connection with the past and hope for the future that you get experiencing a place in Hawai`i over time. You experience it over decades and accumulate your own experiences so they become your memories and your evolution of your relationship with those special places. … What’s truly native Hawai`i in terms of our forests and our reefs—they have their own special feeling to them, there’s a harmony in them that you feel. … You get a sense of peace from being in places like that. So that’s what’s so important about making sure those places remain.

Photo via kaucoast.org–check it out to learn more about preserving the Ka`u Coast.