Deer in the office backyard

We often can see deer outside our office windows.

We work in an office building, but it’s a small one. It’s not in an office park, nor is it on a city street. It’s just in an obscure little building, with its parking lot almost backing on Route 4, and on fenced-off yards and the backs of houses.

This is notable just because it doesn’t give the deer much space, much freedom, or any safety.

It is, in fact, a lousy place to be if you’re a deer.

I understand that deer are a huge problem to gardeners, and really to just about everyone who has a yard. They eat everything, and trample over everything. They jump into traffic, and that’s incredibly dangerous.

I also understand that people have moved into wild animal habitats — not just deer, but wilder, more dangerous animals, up to and including bears — and that not only endangers those species but puts people and their pets in danger.

But still, I look at those deer and my heart jumps at their beauty and then squeezes tightly into itself as I look at the bleak odds they face.

Because the deer really are beautiful. They’re sleek, graceful, elegant, sort of Audrey Hepburn-like. (Or at least the ones we see are. Maybe it’s because they’re underfed.)

Some of the deer we see have fawns with them. Last week, we saw a female deer with two fawns, with their little spots and small bodies and rapt gazes at their mother. It reminds me of years ago, when my children were young, and we were on a train in the Bronx Zoo’s Wild Asia exhibit. The train rounded a bend, and stopped, and the driver whispered that a deer — some exotic species of deer, but a deer nonetheless — had just given birth. We saw the mother deer, and we saw her baby, leaning against her, not yet able to stand upright on its own. We saw the puddle of amniotic fluid right next to her. No one and nothing moved; not them, and not a single one of us. It was pure beauty.

And then someone or something did move, and the train moved on, and that was that.

It would be easy to come up with metaphors for the deer. Some are obvious, and even obviously true. It is hard to look at the mother with her fawns and not think about immigrant mothers and their children, parted, longing for each other, often hopelessly.

Some metaphors are more complicated. I think of listening to Eicha, Lamentations, on Tisha B’Av. “Even her leaders have become like deer that find no pasture, that flee without strength before their pursuer,” we’re told. Is that true of us? Of Jews? Of Americans? Are we the deer? Or are we the hunter?

Those deer face a bleak future. There isn’t any place for them to go. It’s likely that they will find no pasture.

Those deer are so profoundly moving. There is so much joy to be found in just watching them, standing in silence by the window, not moving. Just watching.

Sometimes a deer is a metaphor. Sometimes a deer is, well, just a beautiful, sad, hopeless, hopeful deer.

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)