Albino fawn

Albino Deer in the Jewish Graveyard

By Charlotte Matthews

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What if the prospect for miracles exists anywhere all the time?

There are miracles all around. Six months ago, the largest landfill in Latin America was turned into a mangrove forest. It’s true. What was once 120 acres of trash in Rio De Janeiro is now a dense tangle of roots and trees stalwart enough to tolerate the daily rise and fall of tides. Dump turned into forest teeming with life. Miracle. And this past summer, in Vermont, vacationers hosted a Do-Good festival, raised millions of dollars for victims of a massive spring flood.

Last week a man arranged the letters of his soup in alphabetical order in less than two minutes. As I hear about it on the radio, I see him maneuvering the “w” with the side of his spoon where it floats ephemerally between the “v “and the “x”. He is trying not to think about the earlier letters, the “b” and “c” who will surely jumble themselves if he so much as looks at them wrong. But he finishes in one minute and 53 seconds. His son captures it in a video and sends that to the Guinness Book of World Records.

The word miracle is from the Latin miraculum, which means object of wonder. From it we get marvel, astonishment, supernatural power. And maybe best of all, we get the condiment Miracle Whip—in 1933, taste of mayonnaise with half the fat and calories. Of course, there are the documented Biblical miracles. The day in Galilee, for instance, when Jesus, at his mother’s request, turned 120 gallons of water into wine. Or the way the Red Sea split so the Hebrews could escape Pharaoh’s chasing army. Those we know.

But what if the prospect for miracles exists anywhere all the time? On your way to get the mail, you glimpse a leaf on the curb shaped exactly like a heart. As you stack dishes in the rack after supper, the yellow bowl shimmers, the one with the slight chip on its side that once belonged to your grandmother. Consider that bowl making its way across countless miles, through decades of wars, inventions, floods, and drought.  How it has been the vessel for so many meals, and tomorrow, it will house your milk and corn flakes.

I happen upon the albino fawn grazing in the Jewish cemetery on the street where my grown daughter lives. The walls there are stone topped with shards of quartz jutting up at implausible angles. The fawn is the exact color of the quartz, nearly see-through. Miracle. And the fawn, though just a few days old, stops and stares at me like we belong together, something I need more than I can say. Until I saw her, I couldn’t even admit how hard all this is, how the children who were everything can now live on their own.

I call the fawn Yaara, which means woodland, and Mendel, one who comforts. They are names I read on stones in the graveyard waiting for Emma to come home from work at the hospital. And they seem to fit the fawn perfectly. She is a pearl of the forest. She is all radiance and poise. But she is not where she needs to be. It’s nearing dusk and Yaara and I are both lost—but together. It is like we know something about each other that no one else will ever guess. Like we have a secret. Which we do.


This is the first of 11 contributions to the Climate Stories in Action series, in partnership with the Spring Creek Project at Oregon State University. The series runs from late May through early August 2024.


Charlotte MatthewsCharlotte Matthews teaches writing at The University of Virginia. In her spare time, she likes to collect mosses and bright leaves and walk her dog Auggie.

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