I quietly made my way to the porch window hoping to see the Jays that sometimes come to feed just outside my door. There was no sign of any birds, or even the squirrels who raid the bird-feeders on a regular basis, but there was a suspicion of white on the distant hedgerow. It wasn't frost, it was blossom; one of the first signs of Spring.
"Time to get your boots on, John, and go out for a walk", I said out loud - and we all know what talking to yourself is the first sign of!
My steps led me alongside hedgerows and along muddy paths. The wind had an icy edge, but thankfully the grey clouds were not releasing any rain for the time being. There was even an occasional glimpse of sunlight. But my mood was mostly brightened by the discovery of some foxes' tracks where I wasn't expecting to see them. Rooks passed overhead on their way to the fields.
A little later I found that the recent storm-force winds, which claimed my neighbours' garden fence among its victims, had also brought down an ivy-clad tree across my path. This little scrap of woodland is not managed in any way and casualties of earlier gales lay littered around.
All the nourishment which the roots had extracted over a century or so was being slowly returned to the soil and, in the meantime, providing a home for countless insects and fungi.
Other trees were still standing but already full of nooks and crannies for tiny beasts to set up home - and make interesting diversions for the curious photographer.
Is it just me, or is there a face in there? It could be the old man of the woods or even the king of the jungle keeping an eye on me. Spirits and wildness lurk in even the most civilised places!
The spell of Springtime compelled me to stroll on to a little local nature reserve. Unlike areas in the care of bigger organisations, this place doesn't have armies of volunteers armed with strimmers and chainsaws tidying it to death; nature is left to its own devices.
You don't see much of this rampant, primitive nature on most nature reserves. And you rarely encounter such disorganised and barbaric landscapes in landscape photographs.
Ever since mankind started controlling nature according to his own tastes, and artists began painting the scene as idealised parkland, we've constructed some pretty rigid rules about what's beautiful. Many years ago I had the good fortune to be looking at some of that year's finest landscape photos in the company of a work colleague. She suddenly let out a loud sigh, "Ah, so beautiful.....but...."
".....so beautiful but they remind me a little of the photos of Princess Diana in the glossy magazines; the photographer is brilliant at showing us the beauty, even hiding some small flaws, but there's not much empathy or understanding of the subject". Those words came back to me recently listening to a talk about landscape photos; there was a lot about gear, technique, viewpoint and quality of light, but the photographer was ignorant of what crops were in the fields, what trees grew in the wood, or the geology underlying the scene.
Perhaps those things don't matter to everyone as they did to my friend, though back then we didn't know that those who chased after the Princess were about to destroy the very beauty they sought. And increasingly there's a real danger that some of the most celebrated locations are also threatened by the sheer number of people who want to see and photograph them.
Even more worryingly we might stop looking at and appreciating the less obvious appeal of places nearer to home, places that we can enjoy with minimal impact on this tired old planet.
While my mind has been off on its unfettered travels, my feet and eyes have been firmly fixed in the rather muddy and unkempt scenes around me. I detect Mother Nature muttering away madly to herself as she prepares, in her own unfathomable fashion, for her expected guests who are approaching slowly from the south. Springtime and Summer are on their way and when they arrive all this chaos will be covered up with greenery and birdsong.
And, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, they're soon coming to a place near you. I hope you get out there and enjoy them.