Opportunity knocked. I have a thing about Opportunity; when she knocks I answer and at least listen to the proposition, and so I stood at the bottom of a 300 foot high observation tower in the Amazon Rainforest with the intent to climb it. If the top is reached, the observer would be high above the canopy and witness, under the right circumstances, Toucans, monkeys and other ‘high society’ animals of the forest. Even though high places are not on my list of favorite things, I didn’t want to miss out on what might be seen from such a lofty perch. This required several minutes of self-talk; a pregame warmup if you will.
How to get up there was the question. ‘One step at a time’ was not going to suffice, so I delved into my childhood where nothing was off limits and did what I used to do then – I chose an animal to become. With the tower looming, I knew it had to be someone who didn’t mind heights and, having just seen monkeys the day before, I decided to ‘play monkey’.
It is amazing what we can accomplish if we choose not to be afraid. Consider how many times we neglect to answer Opportunity because we have fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of how others might see it or what they might think. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of heights…
Did I mention it was a very windy day? It was. The metal steps made a loud clanking with each foot I placed on the tread and so too did the creaking of the heavy wire cables as the tower fought against the wind, but I told myself I was a monkey and monkeys don’t care about wind or creaking or clanking. So I went up flight after flight and soon I was not concern about the aforementioned sound effects and just enjoyed the feel of the wind in my face until I reached about 160 feet, the top of the canopy. The canopy was dense and as I looked out over the condensed treetops, I kept thinking about being a monkey and, with 140 feet to go, realized from what I could see, the canopy looked exactly like the ground with scrub brush. Since I had already climbed the 150 feet, I knew I could continue because, in my ‘monkey suit’ I had already climbed 150 feet.
Everything was amazing at the top! I could see for miles, see the Amazon River with a few fishermen making their way to hot spots known only to them, the jungle beneath me meet shrouded in a bit of ground fog - but sadly I could not find mister Toucan. I did watch a King Vulture make lazy circles overhead for a good many minutes. (A really colorful and sizeable bird that I had never seen before.)
Then, from below, I hear the telltale sound of clanking. Another team was following us behind. No problem. I am not even thinking about being up high, I’m just enjoying the view – until they arrive and one of them says, ‘I wonder how many people can be up here safely?’
That one question was my demise. Slowly I started to wonder the same. Just how many people could be up here…on a windy day? And just what were the odds of surviving a crash and burn? Wouldn’t we fall over that way and end up speared on those trees? Moment by moment I became concerned, then afraid and then finally – I had to go back down (along with the dufus who posed the question).
Moral of the story?
Don’t let a dufus talk you out of your monkey suit if you’re not afraid. And don’t listen to those who are.
Little brown faces peeking out from behind the fig palm fronds, barking a warning at our presence as they stuff fruit in their mouths then scurry off to get some distance between their breakfast and the perceived threat of our presence– these are the Brown Capuchin Monkeys of the Amazon Rainforest.
I had seen various monkeys before. In zoos. In ‘habitats’. As sad little entertainers leashed to some unenlightened person. But I had never experienced them in the wild, where they are part of the environment, swinging through the trees eating figs and fruit, scolding each other and everything that displeases them and certainly never in large troupes. But now I can check that off my list.
My sister and I spent many mornings in the Amazon on birdwatching hikes and it was on the return of one of these when we heard a sudden snap of branches overhead as large pieces of fuselage from a fig palm crashed to the ground; we ducked our heads in alarm, then saw the palm fronds and branches twist and rotate in a violent dance. Up and down, to and fro as though a squall had materialized right before our eyes in an otherwise peaceful forest.
But the squall was just a troupe of Brown Capuchin Monkeys. The troupe was rambling through the fig palms, stripping dry peels of brown fronds and letting them fall as they went about their fig hunt.
Somehow, they looked nothing like the ‘habitat’ monkeys. They had a sense about them, a wildness the permeated not only their actions but also their character. Their unrest at people being in the area, their area, was palatable and brought a cacophony of scolding and branch ripping, adding to the squall. As I watched them watching me, I could see difference between wild vs. habitat. These guys scolding me from above were edgy, wary and ready for flight and had the physiques to make it happen, much trimmer but the hard muscled bodies were easy to see even from a distance. They had a confidence, a ‘we belong here, you don’t’ kind of snobby attitude along with the knowledge of numbers; they were all family, basically thought with one mind, one set of rules.
One does not see that in the zoo or ‘entertainment’ monkey. When we see the unhappy leash monkey, a very social little creature, existing without the confidence that comes with belonging to family, with monkey rules and order, without ‘backup’ one has to wonder how miserable they must be.
A walk through a rainforest on a beautiful morning reminded me that families come in all shapes and sizes and as much as we find our own family sacred, worry over our children, give them the best opportunity for a full and happy life - so does every other family on Mother Earth.