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Extras: The River and the Moon

Extras: bonus content to complement the works in our issues: commentary, stories, interviews, and more.

Picking up on the imagery of his haunting piece Catching the Light in Issue 15, Tim Saunders reflects on the Ōroua river, the moon, and inspiration.


The River and the Moon

The moon on the river is not the Moon. It is nothing more than a reflection, pale bones catching the light. A phantom, a spectre. A ghost. 

The moon on the river stays motionless, no matter how fast the river is flowing. Yet it changes as the river changes, transforming as the water carries it to the sea. Ripples crease its face. Rapids fracture its solemn nonchalance. Willows dip fingers into the current, scratch lines deep into the Moon’s calm likeness.

My dog, Oskar, loves the water. I laugh when he launches into the river’s flow, waves lap the banks as he dives and frolics. Sheep watch from behind their fence in that peculiar way that sheep often do, the same way they look at passing trains. I write a few thoughts in my notebook, ideas for poems and stories. This is where ideas come from, listening to the river as it goes about its business.

The Ōroua River slips past the slice of land I call home. It sings, talks, whispers its way from high in the Ruahine Ranges, before converging with the Manawatū and eventually reaching Te Tai-o-Rehua. It carries the stories of all it touches, a confluence of narratives that doesn’t discern between when and where, who and what. The river carves a story in the earth and transports everything we put in it to the waiting ocean.

This evening I stood on the Ōroua’s silty bank, watched the water mirror the sky, the clouds, the willows and ducks. Stars erupted when Oskar shook his coat on the pebbles. The moon cast its reflection, distorted in the stream. Unmoving. Unmoved.


The Moon has a lot to answer for. It has been the inspiration for more bad poetry than anything else, except maybe love. It has influenced songs, some of them quite good according to my father. The Moon shifts tides and currents, which in turn control our weather. I plant my garden by it, my brother knows when to go fishing and when to stay home. My neighbour, Tuhi, would take me eeling by its light, even on school nights when we should have been sleeping. Parasites are most active when the Moon is at its fullest, a good time to worm the dog, to drench the sheep. A forestry worker once told me he never fells pine trees on a full moon, as the sap rises and ruins the timber. Ask any prison worker, the full moon can bring out the worst in people.

Sometimes the Moon is only half there. A crazed smirk on the face of the sky. A lone comma in night’s redacted verse. It just sits there, watching. Always listening.

My family has kept guardianship over the river here for five generations. The Ōroua marks the eastern boundary of our farm. My great-great-grandfather constructed stopbanks along the river’s length in 1906 to contain its floods, the silty loam that was laid down over eons now feeds people around the world. The river facilitates stories around the planet, nourishes them. The Ōroua’s song intertwines with the lives of people who have never heard of it. Can’t even pronounce it.

The river also has no idea how to pronounce its own name. It doesn’t recognise its name. It has no name. It just is. The same can be said about the Moon. The Ōroua and the Moon are storytellers. What we see was once something else. What we see will one day become something else.

That is the nature of rivers and moons. They tell us continual stories, but only if we are present and listening. They are nothing but reflections, which is exactly what a good story should be.

The moon on the river is not the Moon. It is an ever-changing narrative. It worked out a long time ago that meaning is found in the journey, not in the end point that never really arrives. It tells a story we recognise, speaks in a language we know. It sings a waiata we remember.

The Moon and the river know what they’re saying. It’s up to us to listen.

Tim Saunders

Tim Saunders farms sheep and beef near Palmerston North in New Zealand. He has had poetry and short stories published in Turbine|Kapohau, takahē, Landfall, Poetry NZ Yearbook and Flash Frontier. He won the 2018 Mindfood Magazine Short Story Competition, placed third in the 2019 and 2020 New Zealand National Flash Fiction Day Awards, and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2021. His book, This Farming Life, was published by Allen & Unwin in August, 2020.

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