Shadows stretch long on our early morning walk to school, a new normal for my 4-year-old, my 7-year-old, and me.

The coyote was an especially good sign.  I know, coyotes can be tricky.  But this one was exactly where it should be.  It was we – my two boys and me – who spotted the shy creature in the wash a block ahead.  It was we who made the intent to notice the life in our neighborhood at 7:20 in the morning.  We – my husband, our two boys, and me – are one of many families trying to balance life, school, and work.  Walking to Kid 1’s school is a change this year.  It is a change paying off in wildlife sightings, lower morning stress, interactions with human neighbors, and the small wonder of holding our kids’ hands.  It is a change towards balance.

Dog, rabbit, and javalina tracks made a strong showing thanks to rain the day before.

Walking helps balance the sedentary parts of the day: Kid 1 and my husband sitting at their respective desks, myself and Kid 2 sitting in the car for later commutes.  It is one reason we recently changed from a nearby charter to our nearer neighborhood school.  Other reasons included other means of balancing: a more comprehensive curriculum, a schedule helpful for me in the morning and for my husband in the afternoon, and hoping to meet both future and present needs of our kids in one place.  But ah, I love our morning walks.  A month ago the coyote ahead, tracks in the sand, and a hawk above.  Last week a gopher snake, spider webs, and a Sedona-esque rock that “looks like a mountain” to Kid 2.  Each day brings new motivation to walk for a mere 15 minutes.  15 minutes we weren’t walking before.

On a recent weekend, a collard lizard and I mused about another kind of balance, that of the human-built and wild environments of my home.  I was removing a bush that sheltered the lizard’s hole, to accommodate a termite treatment of my house.  The thing is, the lizard stayed near me the whole time, darting in and out of the remaining branches and boulders.  Keeping an eye on me?  Maybe.  Snatching up an insect brunch as ants and leafhoppers fell to the ground?  Definitely.  Am I discouraging one form of bug control in favor of another?  With some care, I hope not.  As I teach in my Bugs and my Bigger Critters classes, we can respond to urban animals creatively after we know them better.  I ended up leaving a little bit of the bush – which also serves as shade to the house’ south face should it grow back.  And I requested the nontoxic-to-pets-and-gardens treatment from the pest control company for the sake of the corn growing a few feet away.  How did I know to ask about option B?  From chatting with one of the neighbors I’m getting to know from walking my son to school.

Another predator – praying mantis – startled me from the brittlebush’s inner branches.

Sometimes balance means taking turns – walking, then sitting.  Sometimes it means making a compromise – the lizard and I each making adjustments.  Some areas of life are still pretty unbalanced.  When I err on the side of sleeping and gardening, for example, dirty dishes pile up precariously.  I get to them eventually, so maybe balance can mean teetering for a while first.

As I write this, a monsoon storm is whipping up overhead to balance out an especially hot morning.  The lizard across the yard still guards its domain.  A month into the school year, walking is still working wonders in our busy mornings.  What can you do to balance parts of your day or your environment?

Kid 1 testing out the walk to his new school.

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