Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Women Rowing North: Book Review

Published January 15, 2019. 
Mary Pipher has written a book for women in the second half of life.

Women Rowing North: Navigating Life's Currents and Flourishing as We Age was published in January of 2019.

I was happy to get my hands on the book in March. Pipher, who is in her early seventies, does describe her own approach to meeting life's challenges; however, she introduces us to dozens of women. A handful of these appear throughout the book.

She also brings in some quotes and describes some research findings. However, she chiefly tells stories about herself and others.

I read Women Rowing North over four days: one day for each of the sections:

I. Challenges of the Journey. This section introduces some of the challenges women face in the second half of life: the aging body, caregiving, retirement, and loneliness being just a few of the challenges. The stories are more powerful than the principles, but it's too difficult to summarize the personal narratives here. But know that many of the women described in the book face losses large and small. And the small ones can add up in ways that become overwhelming.

Pipher writes: "For us to survive loss, we must grow, and it is this growth that will propel us into a life of even greater meaning and gratitude" (82).

II. Travel Skills. In these six chapters, Pipher discusses what strategies women can adopt to face challenges. These can range from building (and rebuilding) community to choosing gratitude over complaining. Many of the women found themselves changing life partners, homes, careers, and making big changes in other ways. Others made changes that were dramatic but more internal.

Pipher writes: "How we talk about ourselves has a great impact: 'We can slowly train ourselves to think in stories that allow us to flourish. We hone our skills in perspective taking, emotional processing, and reframing. Stories of joy, kindness, and courage empower us in ways that the culturally stereotyped narrative never does'"(149).

III. The People on the Boat.  True, an earlier section includes a chapter on building community. But this section focuses more squarely on describing fellow travelers. These can be family members, neighbors, new friends or longstanding friends. The story that impacted me the most is contained in the first chapter of this section.

Soledad and her friends who were students together at the University of Colorado, have been going on camping trips together regularly for thirty years. During a recent camping trip, Soledad confides that she has been diagnosed with lupus and her husband has terminal kidney cancer.

In response, the women moved through the landscape, gathering items to give to Soledad, explaining the powers each item represents:

"After the women offered their gifts, they looked into Soledad's eyes, placed their hands on her shoulders, and sent healing energy her way" (175).

After the gift giving, Soledad's long-time friends give her a new name, Courage, to further equip her for the upcoming challenges.

Older women equip each other with strengths in ways less overt than this, but this was a beautiful dramatization of the power of friendship.

IV. The Northern Lights. Pipher ends with observations about wisdom and learning to take the long view.
"All great truths are paradoxes. We are all both together and alone. Time is everything and nothing. Life is joyous and life is tragic. . . .In a state of bliss, all paradoxes can be held  without tension. . . . Everything seems so connected and inevitable." 
This is a book I want to reread once a decade. Until I experience some of the specific challenges, some of the stories and principles will escape my notice. Pipher provides a useful resource for mature women moving through challenges rarely depicted in popular media. And much thanks to all the women who agreed to be interviewed for this book.


Books on Aging 


  1. I will add it to my list. Thanks for the recommendation.

    1. I hope that you find it thought provoking and encouraging, Haralee.