Energy of the Forest and Orangutan Connections

By Becky Keller, Orangutan Coach.  Growing up in Oklahoma, I never knew the magnitude of how loud cicadas can be. In Borneo, I found them both overwhelming and comforting at the same time. Until I got used to them. Then they began to add to what seemed like the quiet of the rainforest. The quiet was also sometimes deafening. Yeah…that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me either sometimes. 

knocking on the door

Knocking at the Door of the Forest…


The energy of the forest was palpable even before I started my journey into the vast expansiveness of the trees. Standing at the door of the forest opening, I felt as if I should knock and ask permission to enter. After all, it was not my home – even though strangely, I felt very much at home standing there with that thought.

mindful orangutans

Mindful Orangutans


Quietly watching and observing orangutans from a distance, I could feel the energy existing and flowing within the forest. The orangutans were calm. They were focused. They were watchful of their young. They seemed to have a sense of everything around them and at the same time be solely focused on what they were doing at the moment. They seemed mindful. An interesting concept to apply to orangutans but a descriptive one that seemed to fit. To be present in the moment but still aware of their surroundings is a state of “being” challenging for many humans. Until observing orangutans, I never really thought of attaching that description to their behavior.

I remember a time while visiting the orangutans at the San Diego Zoo when I had a mindful connection with one of the long-time female orangutans who lived there. I arrived at the orangutan exhibit when there were several other guests milling around watching the orangutans behind the thick glass of their enclosure. I saw the female orangutan who I had watched and observed several times on previous visits. She was sitting higher in their habitat enclosure by herself. She was calmly chewing on a leaf. On this visit, I kneeled beside the glass enclosure to watch her for a while. I wanted to spend some time with her this time. I silently wondered to myself what she was going to do next. I remember thinking at that time how much I wanted her to come down from the tree branches and sit beside me on her side of the glass. Sometimes the orangutans will do that but usually, it is when small children are there and eager to see THEM. Nevertheless, I talked to her in my mind asking her to come to sit beside me and tell me what she wanted me to do for her species. I wanted to talk with her and investigate her face. I wanted to see her and know how she was doing. I so wished we could talk to each other and tell each other how we were doing. Somehow, I felt like that would be a remarkably interesting conversation.

I was kind of at a point in my life, during that visit, where I wondered what my next step would be in volunteering with orangutans. I had studied them, visited them in the wild, given talks about them, educated others about them, raised money for them…but was not sure what my next journey with them would be. I half chuckled to myself quietly telling myself if she came down and sat beside me, I would know that volunteering with orangutans was still part of my own journey. I continued to observe the calm, red ape in my line of sight, oblivious of the other visitors around me. Soon, my orangutan friend climbed slowly down from her tree branch perch and sauntered over to my part of the glass. She took her time as she gazed confidently around the ground as if deciding the exact place and position, she would choose for her next spot. She picked through some wayward fruit pieces and leaves lying on the ground. She appeared not to notice or be fazed by the humans peering (and pointing) in her direction. I had not moved and continued to kneel in the same space next to the glass in which I originally started observing her that day.


Orangutan connections

Orangutan Connections... Let's Talk


Suddenly she came next to the glass directly in front of me and sat down. We looked at each other. My eyes indicated surprise. Her eyes seemed to indicate…” Yes? You wanted to talk?” Her gaze was as calm as always. We looked at each other. After a few minutes, I silently thought to myself…Well – I guess that’s it. I guess my journey to do something for orangutans continues. Okay then. Whatever you say (I silently said to her sitting in front of me). Guess that’s what I have to do.” Not that I knew what or how that would happen but somehow, I knew I would be doing something. Because at the moment the orangutan sat down in front of me, I knew that connection was still strong. It was somehow validated. Not sure how. Not sure why…I just knew. It was as if during the whole time I was watching that particular orangutan chewing on the leaf at the top of the tree structure, we somehow connected. Somehow, she seemed to know – I needed HER - so she came down and sat beside me. When this happened, a woman who had seen the orangutan come over to me, sit down, and stay there looking at me finally asked me if the orangutan and I “knew” each other or if I was a “Keeper” at the Zoo. I answered no to both. She then told me (a total stranger) that it really seemed like the orangutan knew me and came straight down to me as if I was her longtime familiar friend. She expressed her amazement at how specific the orangutan had appeared to come to sit with me. I admitted, I felt the same. It was another validation of my connection to orangutans. It is a commitment I have been passionate about for 25 years. It is something that I am still learning to manage as I balance the different parts of my life. It is a part that makes me happy and for which I feel grateful to be able to continue. Volunteering FOR orangutans is an honor.

Inspire – Create – Connect!


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