Back to the Deer Park

To be back at Dinefwr Park after 3 weeks of illness should feel like a triumph:  tramping the paths so well known, greeting a few of the people I cherish. But I am ill at ease. My chest feels tight, my breath wheezy. It’s Monday, and last Friday we completed the sale of a house which had long been a burden. The money should be in my bank account by now, but every time I check, it’s not there. It was sent on Friday, so where is it? What is this little string of numbers, and how has it spent the week-end? 

I had never had bronchitis before. Actually I had never, as far as I can remember, been ill before. I’d had colds of course, and surgical episodes, but not this loss of self to a squad of alien microbes that were forcing me to cough and retch until my lungs screamed. And it just went on and on, day after tedious day. I would get up, do things, lie down, cough, do more things, lie down again, cough cough cough. In the last week I was given a course of antibiotics and after three days with no change things began to improve. Was it the antibiotics or was I recovering anyway? That depends on whether the infection in my lungs was viral or bacterial. I will probably never know.

This Monday I have the last tablet of the course in my lunch box. I have a text from Rhodri asking if I can help feed the deer. This is a relatively easy job and I’m keen to help so we arrange to meet later. I borrow a key from Alice at Visitor Reception.

“Did you know the Deer Park is closed?”

“Ah. Oh yes, Dai told me. The paths are too slippery. So there are no gates to be left open. I’ll be on my own.” Wonderful, I think.

“Yes. Do we have a number for you in case anything goes wrong?” I know they do, but give her my phone number anyway.

“Thanks Alice. I’ll see you this afternoon” The key is on a lanyard round my neck so I won’t forget to return it.

I park the car and get kitted up: down gilet, rain coat, leggings, boots then rucksack with binoculars, harness, camera, phone, lunch, snacks and flask and here I am tramping down the familiar path to the Castle Woods Hide overlooking the flood plain below the castle. It should feel wonderful but doesn’t. I’m slightly nauseous, but still glad to look out over the lake swollen with constant rain. I’ve been counting the birds here for two years, so I know what to expect. It’s the changes in numbers which make it interesting, and one species in particular shows huge seasonal changes – Wigeon, those gorgeous, colourful, perky, sociable winter ducks. I can see immediately that they are at peak numbers, and I begin counting with the binoculars. Counting large flocks of moving birds at a distance is a learned skill. I used to use a clicker, but find I can manage without now. You have to count very fast, moving quickly up and down the moving carpet of ducks in a zig-zag. I get to the last stragglers as the vanguard has moved into a quite different formation. I make it 210. I could do another count, but this figure seems right. It’s a good peak, well up on previous years. I sip coffee from the flask and count the rest. There are 2 Canada Geese, 4 Cormorants, 2 Shovellers, 2 Gadwall, 10 Mallards, 8 Coots and 3 Little Egrets.

At 10:15 I have unlocked the Deer Park gate and locked it behind me. For the first time I am alone with the deer. My spirits rise and I set off up the Brown Path – a steady climb towards the waist of Rookery Ridge.

Within minutes I’m wheezing. I’m in poor shape and must slow down. A small group of does is staring at me – a good excuse to stop quite still until they decide what to do. They trot across the path and down to the bottom field; six of them. Two woodpeckers are drumming from different places, but I can’t locate the sounds and can’t see them.

When I reach the ridge, breathing heavily and trying not to cough, I see a large group of does with a few bucks. They move steadily along the ridge towards the fire tanks – 40 of them.

I take a break in the Badger Hide, throw out a few peanuts and watch the tits and nuthatches carrying them off. I check my bank account on the phone and to my surprise there is the money! It’s a late start to the working day for this string of numbers, but perhaps it had a long way to travel. (Travel? How? By air? Of course not it’s magic.) Now all I have to worry about is my health.

I slowly and carefully walk the boundary fence. This dreary wet mid-winter has no surprises. It’s easy to get round with nothing growing. I take extra care in the tricky bits, but I know every foot hold and don’t slip.

In the Kingfisher Hide, low down at the edge of the valley I look out over the so-familiar stretch of Oxbow lake and see the usual Moorhen. I eat my doorstep sandwich and sip coffee but I’m not hungry and don’t enjoy it. After half an hour I leave to meet Rhodri, expecting him to be late and the whole procedure to take an hour.

No sooner do I reach the car than he’s there, on foot. The tractor is parked up by the Bog Wood – a place he’s not used before.

“It’s to prevent liver fluke infection. The flukes infect the grass where they have been fed before, so we’re moving around more this year.”

He settles at the wheel and raises the bucket to shoulder height. It’s full of feed beet and my job it to pull the beets off in a continuous stream as he slowly reverses. It’s hard work and I need to hold the bucket to steady myself. Every few minutes I signal to him to tip the bucket more. He sounds the horn to tell the deer, but none appear. In ten minutes we are done. There is a long line of beet but no deer. I’m puffing again, but don’t show Rhodri. I don’t want him to think of me as unfit.

So here I am, earlier than expected, on my way to Carmarthen to spend some money! It should feel great, but I’ve no experience of recovery from illness so don’t know if the partial return of my symptoms is a potential disaster or not. I know I have done too much, and I’m coughing, but it is, I think, a normal sort of cough. I will get better.


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