"Looking Up" to Orangutans

by Becky Keller, Orangutan Coach.  Tracking orangutans involves a lot of looking up. Although orangutans do sometimes walk along the forest floor similar to humans – their primary means of going through their forest home is to “brachiate” through the trees at a level where for humans to see them, we must point our faces upward. It is safer and quicker for orangutans to be high in the trees and puts them in proximity to the fruit, leaves, insects, flowers, and tree bark that are part of their diet.  

looking up

Rexanna Lester, Sara Keller, Becky Keller, and Vanessa Lee looking up for orangutans.

So…. not surprisingly (to me at least) while fixated on being the first to find an orangutan during a hike among the trees, my second daughter, Sara, stepped smack into a leafy and somewhat deep, muddy hole along our path. As I stifled my immediate reaction to laugh out loud, she became immediately displeased with primarily becoming wetter than we already were – traipsing through a rainforest where it was either actively raining or actively dripping rain from the previous rain – all the time. The Indonesian Guide, leading us who happened to be directly in front of Sara - immediately stopped walking and started to console and help her. He cleaned off her shoes, pants, and men’s nylon dress socks we each wore to prevent leeches from getting up our pants legs. (I think he could see that I, as her mother, was more occupied with trying not to let Sara know how funny she looked and stifling my laughter as well.) Sara just stood there, silently fuming, trying not to get mad at the Guide (as he was truly trying to help her) but all the while holding in her own grunts of frustration and sending “dagger eyes” in my direction - her mother – as I was obviously not very successful in hiding or even suppressing my merriment at watching her get through her “predicament”.

The Guide cleaned her up, we continued our quest to find orangutans, and soon her competitive spirit in still wanting to be the one who “saw” the first orangutan overtook her frustration with both the incident and me for laughing at her misstep. To Sara, her predicament was soon forgotten, replaced in her memory by her success in indeed spotting the first orangutan of the day (with a little nod from our extremely helpful Guide). She remembered the hole (with less than fond memories) but what she talked incessantly about later was her SUCCESSES. Her success in being the first to spot an orangutan high above her now less than significant hole, her newly learned skills in tying a hammock between trees, her targeted aim in flipping leeches off her ankles and legs, and her overall completion of a long, wet, and sweaty day of hiking through a rainforest. The smile on her dirt-encrusted face encircled in a rain-drenched bandanna convinced me it was a day worth experiencing. Letting go of what did not serve her allowed Sara to focus on the goal(s) that DID serve her. How little I knew at the time how important the practice of that skill deep within the forest of Borneo while looking for orangutans would be for Sara as she became an adult.

cleaned off

Sara Keller being cleaned off after stepping into a hole


I love to remember her step into the deeper than it looked hole. It is a funny memory that makes me smile and reminds me that in life – we do not always see what is coming – even when it is right in front of us. That lesson of the day (and there were many learned while in Borneo) showed me and my daughter that when you have a setback, accept help from people who care, pick yourself up, clean yourself off and keep going…and sometimes – laugh - even though you may not see the humor in something until much later. LOL!

Inspire – Create – Connect


Email: becky@beckykeller.com

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Orangutan Coach