‘The chance encounter with a stranger that blew my mind’

Nov 15, 2020
Ian's hike through the Blue Mountains resulted in a chance meeting he won't forget anytime soon. Source: Ian Smith

“Don’t tell me your surname is Smith!”

It was raining, not hard, but the drizzle was constant. There’s something about being in the forest when it’s wet. Drips on the flowers, colours highlighted in the wet, the splash of footsteps, the quiet. It’s all there, you just have to notice it.

I was north of Lawson in the Blue Mountains, hoping to find St. Michaels Falls with a reasonable flow of water. There were puddles here and there after I left the parking lot and I diverted initially to Fairy Falls, the loud noise of water thrashing on sandstone being the attractant. There was, indeed, about twice as much water as when I’d last visited and the diversion raised my spirits. This time I splashed through the falls and shot them from behind. I could do this comfortably because, only hours before, I’d made the decisive move to purchase a pair of gumboots.

When I’d housesat at Berry, the owners had given me a pair and it opened up a whole new world of bushwalking. No longer did streams and cascades necessitate fear of sloshing feet. Now you could plunge into the waters, offering up a multitude of camera angles I’d not contemplated before.

With a spring in my step I moved again towards St Michaels and came across a lady on the path. She was stereotypical Blue Mountains. How many had I seen of her type. Vibrant, happy, not an ounce of fat, wavy hair, content to be in the bush under any circumstances. One couldn’t help but reflect that obesity is a scarcity in this area. People come here to enjoy nature; not only that, to thrive on it.

The wildflowers were plenty. There’s no boldness about Australian wildflowers, the vast majority are tiny, though some are in such profusion as to make up for their size.

Epacris obtusifolia
Wildflowers, such as the Epacris obtusifolia (pictured), can be found scattered over the Blue Mountains. Source: Ian Smith

Then the stairway to St. Michaels. Easing down the worn sandstone with my painful knees there was no rush so I stopped from time to time to simply enjoy the moment before reaching the slippery bridge across the downstream waters. St. Michaels was loud, the waters pounding into the splash pool beneath and the sound of the contact was magnified a multitude of times in the caves behind.

I wandered around in the waters, indulging in the moment, feeling the power of nature, soaking up its beauty. Eventually I headed south east, searching for an elusive route to the lower part of Fairy Falls. I crossed the stream to a trail I’d never been on. It climbed, ever so slowly, making the stream impossible to get to until a sign was reached. It indicated that it may actually have been a trail I’d visited before but from the other end.

St Michaels Falls
St Michaels Falls was a beautiful place to stop for photo. Source: Ian Smith

No sooner had I made my mind up to retrace my steps when a stranger walked into view. I thought the possibility remote that I would have come across two people out here on a day like today but we said hello and then delved into our reasons for being here. Since he was carrying a tripod to go with his camera it wasn’t hard to work out that he might be interested in the same type of photography that had egged me on today. Indeed, he was keen to shoot as many falls as he had time for in the area and we shared some information until it was time to part when I introduced myself.

“I’m Ian, by the way.”

“You’re kidding. Don’t tell me your surname is Smith.”

The shock of what was about to happen next surprised us both. For here was Ian Smith talking to Ian Smith. It transpired he’d met a few of our namesakes but this was my first such encounter so it was perhaps a touch more memorable for me. Naturally, that led to us exchanging contact information and we parted richer for the experience.

blue mountains
Meeting Ian 2.0 was certainly a highlight of the walk. Source: Ian Smith

I headed back while Ian 2.0 pushed on. Aways on the return trail I espied a safe way down. At least, by hanging onto some passing trees it was. There were small cascades I was keen to shoot and the results were pleasing so I continued further up the stream, recording photogenic spots and splashing through the water with gay abandon in the gumboots. It’s definitely so much easier and they’re surprisingly comfortable.

I hadn’t gone that much further when, lo and behold, there was Ian 2.0 again. He’d doubled back and scrambled down further upstream and had noted me on his way past so it came as no surprise when I reached his position. It’s nice being with someone of similar interests; you understand what they’re feeling and why they’re taking so long. Explanations are superfluous, you can simply savour the company and compare notes.

After this we headed back for North Lawson Park. Ours were the only two vehicles there and I invited him in for a cuppa but, alas, bowls beckoned. Apparently he’s keen on rolling down a few and was involved in a tournament this particular week so my attempts to meet up for a cuppa anytime were futile. Still, it had been a special day in so many ways.

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Have you ever met someone with the same name as you?

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