Inner Michael » The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

She whispers a silver light on the meadow where the mist rises as I stop and listen intently to the silence. Really listen. Really silent. My feet seem to glide or lightly dance along the dirt road as I wind my way around the garden toward my hermitage: ‘Holy Angels.’ I need them. The darkness is friendly and I inhale big gulps of it. The moon is a harsh mistress. She follows, a stealth presence: always there, always silent, always palpable, always Presence. She hails to my heart and I turn my back as I choose to ignore her.

This place has been home for a long time—more than two decades. The sanctuary was quiet and St. Francis was the only figure in the chapel silo as I slipped out into the night. I hear my own footfalls as I make my way through the night to a place that is safe, that wraps me in a friendly coolness and breathes my heart in the vastness of its call. It happens every time: they offer a flashlight and I decline. I have never needed one here. Even on the nights when there is no moon I have never needed one. There are some places that generate their own light from within and this is one of them. Seeing through the darkness is no problem in some places. For two decades I have wandered here at night without a flashlight never losing my way, never not seeing the path.

This is the only place on Earth that I know of where it is so quiet that in Winter, if you stop crunching through the snow and slow your breath, you can hear the snow falling. Yes, hear it. Do you know what falling snow sounds like? A thousand micro-bells that tinkle ever so lightly as their crystalline forms cascade through the air to land softly with a tiny “tink” on pine boughs.

I reach my cabin and open the porch screen, the hinge squeak echoing across the dark signaling my arrival to Miranda who is huddled in the corner waiting for me. She comes easily and quickly, licking my hand welcoming me home and insists that I scratch her ears hello by positioning them squarely in my palm. She asks nothing of me except love and an occasional ear scratch. Small price to pay for perpetual unconditional love. I sink into the Adirondack and pull the comforter round me. I lift my heels to the ledge and settle back into the quiet. ‘Randy’ places her jaw on my thigh and sighs deeply as I feel her body shiver.

I match her shudder as Randy, ever the Retriever, retrieves a metaphor from the night for the poet in me. She reminds me that we can send a man up there—to the moon and safely retrieve them even when their odds are slender, but we can’t retrieve our human shadow. We can’t leash it obediently to our sides as we walk through this adventure called life—not even for a moment. Its unruly snarling and snapping jaws sometimes beg a muzzle for it cannot be taken into polite company for lack of civil and simple housetraining.

The shadow should be off limits here in this sacred place. In fact, nothing of its kind should be allowed here. This should be safe haven. This is a place where the human spirit is elevated and celebrated and the soul takes a breath that is long and deep and cool like water. Even here I am reminded of how ardently we defile our salvation: love.

Something calls across the space and something behind me answers. Was it a Screech Owl and her mate? A badger growling because dinner is late? Or is it my mind that momentarily squeaked on the hinges of its gate as it just whooshed out into the cosmos sparkling above my head? I feel kind of empty as I imagine a leaky mind must feel. Maybe my mind has decided this is just too much to ask. Maybe the shadow is supposed to win. Maybe humankind is destined to be crushed by the weight of it. Maybe the darkness is our destiny. Maybe Darth was right. Or maybe I need a different kind of flashlight, one to pop a light saber. Maybe we underestimate the power of the dark side. The valley of the shadow is upon us.

She taps my shoulder. I ignore her once again for she has come to mean something else for me—a sphere reflecting the light certainly, but more. She is something I never knew before. Someone I never knew. She is the goddess, the grandmother, the mystic queen and a symbolic home for someone I have come to know in reflection, as reflection. She is now too: the dancer, the magician, the alchemist, the song, the shaman, and king—he who walks her in dance across the night. I know he is there. I know he is waiting. The moon is a harsh mistress.

Linda Ronstadt: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (lyrics)

See her as she flies
Golden sails across the sky
Close enough to touch
But careful if you try
Though she looks as warm as gold
The moon’s a harsh mistress
The moon can be so cold

Once the sun did shine
And lord it felt so fine
The moon a phantom rose
Through the mountains and the pine
And then the darkness fell
The moon’s a harsh mistress
It’s hard to love her well

I fell out of her eyes
I fell out of her heart
I fell down on my face, yes I did
And I tripped and I missed my star
And I fell and fell alone
The moon’s a harsh mistress
The sky is made of stone

The moon’s a harsh mistress
She’s hard to call your own

(c) Jimmy Webb 1974 White Oak Songs (ASCAP)


  1. Charlene said . . .

    Wow! This is a very powerful piece, Barbara! So beautifully written. Thank you again for your mastery of words and your gift of expression.

    I have at times felt the same kind of emptiness, and pondered some of the same questions. Sometimes I wonder if it’s possible for humanity to overcome its shadow – for the light to at least be powerful enough to diminish it. Can we carry that much light? Do we have the strength to do it? How in the world did Michael manage it for 50 years?

    Sometimes the shadow seems so large, so intense and powerful. I can feel it when I visit certain websites or when I see the tabloid news headlines which seem to generate a huge amount of energy without much effort. Knee-jerk reactions create a buzz and a tension between those with differing opinions, and the controversy feeds the shadow, giving it more power. How do we change that? CAN we change that? Human nature is to want to protect the ones we love, especially if we feel they have been taken advantage of and are not able to speak for themselves.

    Is our energy going to the right places? Sometimes it feels as if all the light Michael left for us and in us is being dispersed in so many different directions that it can’t possibly have enough power to make a difference! But then I wonder, are these feelings of doubt and discouragement just my old “tapes” being played again – old ways of thinking coming around to try and pull me back down? You once told me that the doubt was my ego – that it fears extinction, and I must be gentle with it because it’s like a child. This made good sense to me and I remind myself of that every time I feel it creeping back into my psyche.

    I’m a dreamer at heart. I want to believe in the power of the light and in goodness. I want to believe in magic and moonbeams. Michael gave that back to me! And I don’t want to lose it! When my soul begins to wither a bit under the pressure and my head is telling me it can’t be done, I remember the great courage Michael had and how he never gave up on humanity….on us! And he had the weight of the world on his shoulders!! We have each other – we have the power of numbers, of community. If we can remain focused and together in our purpose, we CAN diminish the shadow!

    I can tell you for sure that this calling is something God has been preparing me for all my life. I can’t turn my back on it – I can’t say no! I know in my heart that this is so much bigger than my little world, and that I have been chosen to be a part of it, for whatever reason. I know my life has been changed forever because of it. This is not just a phase after which I will return to my old “comfortable” ways of living. This is much bigger than that, and if we are to effect change in the world, we must keep encouraging one another when we begin to feel discouraged. We can walk through this valley of the shadow together and make it through to the other side where Michael is waiting!

    Maybe a flashlight that pops a light saber would be a great symbol of our mission to defeat the darkness – a reminder that light IS more powerful than shadow… and Darth was wrong!

    Posted May 16, 2010 at 8:07 am | Permalink
  2. lmt said . . .

    Whew. Such a beautiful way to express this awful side of humanity. This is what it feels like–that creeping, invasive, ugly shadow–

    After Michael died, this fight became personal for me. I’ve felt, and at times, directly confronted this darkness–it’s mine now. Michael fought most of his life against it and now that same shadow has dispersed and landed on many shoulders–others, like me, who are willing but maybe not happy about taking it on. “Flashlight that pops a sabre” is perfect. I love the vision and strength in that statement.

    I will never be able to see the moon again in the same way. Every time I see her, I imagine a soft voice reminding me there’s work to do and a world to change–and I want to shout “But it’s hard…it hurts..” And he answers “I know…”

    Posted May 16, 2010 at 2:23 pm | Permalink
  3. Anne Mette Jepsen said . . .


    Posted May 23, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

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