This interview first appeared in a short, edited form in the Honolulu Advertiser in June, 2008. Here is my full interview with Oceanic Institute President Bruce Anderson, published here for the first time.

What I’m Reading | BRUCE ANDERSON
President, Oceanic Institute

Q&A with Christine Thomas June 2008

Q. What are you reading?

A. I just finished reading The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring by Richard Preston. It is a story about young, modern day explorers who climb hundreds of feet into the upper canopy of giant redwoods, some over a thousand years old. There, they find a rich ecosystem full of other plants, canopy bonsai for example, spiders and other animals found only in this unique environment.

His account of sleeping in treeboats, making love and “skywalking” 350 feet above the ground were fascinating to me. I could relate to bees stinging their faces, falling from the trees and the sacrifices they made in their lives in their never ending quest to find the tallest trees. It was obvious that the author loved climbing and those who devoted their lives to studying these magnificent trees and protecting the few old-growth forests.

The book brought back some nice memories, too. I had forgotten about the wonderful times I had climbing up tall Norfolk Island pines as a kid on Judd Trail. These were trees my father helped plant 70 years ago and are now well over 100 feet tall. We’d free climb up to the top, hand over hand, limb to limb, trying to find the tallest tree. Fortunately, none of us cratered, which is the climbers term for dying from a fall from a tree.

By the way, I also enjoyed reading The Cobra Event, another book that Preston wrote about bio-terrorism and the gruesome deaths caused by a manufactured virus that threatens New York. He is obviously a very versatile writer.

Another book I enjoyed recently is Clare: The Honolulu Years by David Eyre. It is a revealing account of the life of Clair Boothe Luce during her years in Honolulu and the people she associated with here in the 70’s and 80’s, some of whom I knew.

In many ways, Eyre’s account of Clare’s lifestyle was critical and unflattering. He was certainly unsympathetic in describing how she treated other people. He did, however, capture an era of high society that Hawai’i will probably never see again. I particularly enjoyed reading about her acquaintances, some of whom I knew, such as Val Ossipoff, a prominent architect. Val had the misfortune of having Clare as a client. Even after finishing it, I wondered why David Eyre wrote about her. He could have picked a number of other people to write about during that era that he really liked.

Also, last month, I re-read Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Huckleberry Finn is required reading for my son, a junior at Punahou. It was for me, too, over thirty years ago. I highly recommend reading some of the classics when you don’t really need to read them. You will appreciate them more, and it’s fun to talk about them.

Q. How did you discover them?

A. My boss, Chatt Wright, President of HPU and Chairman of the OI Board, gave me a copy of this book after one of his trips to the Mainland. I think he appreciated the devotion these young people demonstrated in pursuing their passion.

Eyre’s is not a book I would have normally picked-up and read. It was selected by Cobey Black, a wonderful writer and a business partner of Clare’s, and a fellow member of a book club we fondly call the Damon Reading Group. It is named after its founder, Frank Damon, who after more than 40 years still presides over our meetings. Book clubs are a great way to find out about books that you typically don’t see on the racks at airport shops. Several of the members of our book club are prominent writers and, sometimes, we get the authors to come and talk to us about their books.

We did something unusual during our meeting at Cobey’s apartment to discuss Clare. Cobey is a very good friend of John Eyre and, after talking about him and his book, we tried calling him at his home. Unbeknown to me, David was dying at the time and was too tired to come to the phone, but his son answered and we got to talk to him for a few minutes. I hope John got the message.

Q. What do you like most about Preston’s book?

A. I think the description of their lifestyle as they devote their lives to exploring these forests and the sacrifices they made to pursue that lifestyle was intriguing for me. I have seen people do this in other professions, but this was something new to me and this particular activity was something that wasn’t even on the radar for me. I didn’t even know that people climbed up these trees and studied the ecosystems and all that when along with that. So I was intrigued with that, and the description of what they actually found there was interesting but more important was how they felt about pursuing that lifestyle and the relationships they developed.

Richard Preston personally liked to climb trees himself and in the epilogue he talks about taking his family up into a tree somewhere in the east coast. As he got up to the upper canopy of these trees and shared some of the experiences–obviously the author was wrapped up in this and he wrote about it very well. It wasn’t just an academic exercise for him. He felt that passion or whatever it was that draws people to trees. They’ve taken a passion in most children I know and taken it to a level where it’s a lifestyle.

Q. Do their explorations inspire new ideas for healing marine life, like your innovative shrimp-breeding program?

I think it’s nice and it’s invigorating to read about people who are so passionate about what they do. It did not make me want to climb a tree. It might be fun to do that some time, but it didn’t really leave me with the feeling I had to go out and find the tallest tree and climb to the top. It was interesting to read about how this group of relatively young people, kids in their 20s and 30s, grad students and others adventurous enough to do this. I see people like that in my field a lot who don’t care about the money who really just want to explore new places or learn about things that people dont’ know about, and that’s exciting. It was a fun book to read and I could identify with a lot of the emotions they had in these experiences.

Marine science is full of frontiers like this, too. The oceans are still largely a mystery to us. And whether you climb trees or probe the depths of the ocean, there are wonderful opportunities for people to learn about the world we live in.