OFTEN an unexpected and coincidental meeting with someone you don’t know leaves a huge impression. This happened to me last week in a small town in East Lothian close to where I live. I met a man called Jim sitting quietly in his garden, sheltering from the rain under the roof of a small veranda of a hut.

I had been walking past his house and had paused for a moment to admire his garden. I was just about to go on my way when I saw him. I was surprised as the weather was cold and very wet. But he was dry under his wooden roof.

We got talking. I cannot say how old he is but he is retired with a lifetime of memories and stories. Jim’s job had taken him to many parts of the world and he spoke of his travels, and the adventures and experiences they brought him. He has seen both wonders and the grim reality of desperate poverty.

We also chatted about his beautiful garden and the wonderful things he has done with it. Then he told me he had cancer and wasn’t sure how much time he had left.

I was so sorry to hear this, and asked if he was in pain. He said he did have pain, but it didn’t stop him enjoying sitting in his garden. He invited me into it to show me around. I made sure I kept a distance and wore a mask.

He invited me to see inside one of his huts. He clearly has skills with wood that I wished I had. He has a love of books and music and said he’d always had a passion for wildlife and nature, so I suppose that was part of the affinity I felt with him.

His hut was decorated with Native American art, and we spoke of our mutual interest and respect for Native American culture. He reflected on why some cultures seem to understand and get the importance of the natural world.

“It’s all around us, if we sit and have time to notice and enjoy it,” he said.

Two sheds face each other in his garden and I asked why. He told me one faces east and the other west, so he can sit in the sunshine on both mornings and evenings, and watch the sun rise and set. I smiled at the lovely image of this. There was no sunshine on this morning, but it was still a new day, so he was sitting looking east when I met him.

We shared stories together in his garden and I quickly realised Jim had many stories to tell – from his childhood in East Lothian to his world travels. But he also had stories from his garden. He told me that the other day he had heard a huge commotion. The seagulls above were squawking and screeching more than usual. The smaller birds also seemed restless. He watched and listened to the drama from his garden, and wondered what was going on.

Then he realised. There was a buzzard making swoops over the rooftops of the houses, and the other birds were panicked, or perhaps just communicating the danger. Jim watched as the birds flew in zig-zags across the sky.

Then there was silence and the buzzard was gone. Had it just left or caught its prey? He couldn’t see, but a life and death drama had taken place in the skies above the town and he’d possibly been the only human to notice or take interest in it.

I had to leave to collect my daughter from football practice. I asked if I could write about our meeting and he was keen to share more stories, so I promised to return to his garden so we could do that.

It was such an unexpected encounter, but a wonderful one. I suppose none of us really knows how much time we have left and that’s all the more reason to enjoy the simple pleasures of each day, as Jim taught me. And that includes the drama of nature around us, and the company and stories of an interesting new friend.

Later that day, the clouds cleared and the sun came out, giving us an unexpected blazing sunset. I had an image of Jim sitting in his garden, looking west this time, as the day ended. It made me think. There are so many friends out there we haven’t met yet, but which we will, if we take a moment to stop and talk.