The Shimmer of Life

I was there. I saw it one day, the shimmer – “the brilliant shimmer of the biosphere.” I saw it in leaves after the rain – later, in a fishes’ scales and an animal’s fur, in the iridescent skin of my own infant daughter.  I saw it and drank it in, in wonder and desire and gratitude.  Mostly wonder. 

Shimmer is what I care about.  I didn’t have a word for it until I read Deborah Rose Bird’s essay: “Shimmer: When Everything You Love is Being Trashed” in Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet

Trees and stars are masters of shimmer, that is why trees are beyond value. 

You can’t know when it will come upon you, it’s like grace that way but more wild. Wild as any newborn, wild as any animal.  You know it is shimmer because it’s all that you can see (or hear or smell or touch or otherwise sense.) It’s more than you can sense – a revelation or a vision – but it’s just there in the fleeting moment and the ordinary thing that you passed a hundred times but now it is revealed to you as if it were the burning bush or the shining void.  Or the melody that the world is making that you hear and yet don’t hear. That is playing through you.  Or the smell of a memory that echoes through the rooms of time. 

Shimmer is the world being itself and for once you happen to be there with it.  For once, you see it. 

Yes, shimmer is love.  The appearance of love to a mortal being through some kind of miracle.  

And shimmer is what we stand to lose. 


Thank you to the indigenous people of Australia for their gift of shimmer, and to Deborah Bird Rose for carrying it into English. 

4 Replies to “The Shimmer of Life”

  1. Reading Rose Bird’s essay was like discovering a new colour. A familiar word repurposed for something precious I instantly recognized, hopefully we all do, but which our language had never troubled to name. Truly eye-opening!

    1. I’m glad you liked it. It’s crazy how a word can change what it’s possible to say. 🙂

  2. I’ve felt it a few times. A kind of fleeting moment of resonance with the landscape and all living things around you. Deep and impossible to forget.

    I felt it more in the place where I went to University. In 4 years ofwalking and foraging up and down the paths and tracks of a small town, I built up a strong, deep connection to the place. I have often wondered what it would feel like after 40 years of walking through and interacting with a landscape? Or 4 generations. Or 40 generations. Would one live in a constant state of connection/resonance? Is that what it would mean to be indigenous to a place?

    Would that be too much for a human mind? Or is it the way our minds are supposed to work?

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment and intriguing questions, Joshua. Those moments of shimmer are an unforgettable gift, aren’t they? And life-changing in a quiet, deep way
      The connection that comes from long familiarity with a place (and the active looking/engagement that foraging encourages) is related to those moments of resonance somehow. The everyday practice of it?
      I would say that the connection is something most people crave -perhaps not everyone but most – and that this grounding in a place can be a great source of strength and inspiration.

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