Life is about finding a balance between wildness and civilization that keeps us safe yet still makes us feel alive. If things get a little too wild, we end up spending time and energy trying to tame them. If they’re too controlled, we lose our soul connection to the spontaneous and sacred. Nowhere is this more apparent than on my orchard ranch, where I always strive to be the voice of reason when it comes to making decisions about the creatures great and small.

There is a preserved wilderness surrounding most of the land where we live, so I often find myself coming into contact with coyotes, foxes, skunks, raccoons, lizards, snakes, frogs, mice, voles, moles, squirrels, spiders, wasps, wild turkey, heron, birds of prey, song birds and more! Although Mountain Lion is mysterious and elusive, her signs are there too. Being in this environment has helped me accept and learn a number of lessons that not only apply on the ranch, but to life as a whole.

It’s easy to love the pretty, fluffy, and colorful animals. We can lavish attention on purring kittens, ooh and aww over puppy videos on social media and dream of petting a tamed fox. But it can be more difficult to appreciate creepy snakes, scary spiders, and “pests” like rats, mice and ants, especially when they’re in our home.

What we need to realize is that nature is all about balance – not control. The world has been created in such a way that every being on the planet has a purpose. This is even true of the creatures we may prefer not to think about or come across. Each fits into a greater part of an ecosystem and serves to keep the circle of life constantly turning. When we embrace this, we are able to connect with and appreciate not only that which is easy to love, but also that which we fear or find “icky”.

Understanding the gifts brought by these “pests” allows us to face our fears about encountering them, which can also help deepen our awareness and allow us to have gratitude even when we feel uncomfortable. When we see a spider or ant, we can get down on the ground with it and examine it more closely instead of immediately stepping on it or getting out toxic spray. If we notice moles or snakes on our property, we can research their role in the ecosystem and be able to more fully appreciate their beneficial qualities and what’s needed for balance. When we do this, we find there is always a lesson to be learned from our animal encounters and it almost always opens our hearts to love more deeply.

Animals can be our greatest teachers if we simply put aside our fears and expectations to allow them to impart their lessons. When we have gratitude for the inherent value in all creatures, we connect to the oneness and interdependence of the universe and find greater peace and belonging for all.