There’s no getting away from the fact that 2012 has not, so far, been the easiest year chez Girl on the River. Without boring you unnecessarily with my woes, I’ve been faced with the shocking and sudden death of a friend, loved ones being diagnosed with cancer, anxieties and setbacks on the home and work front, and our beloved Dog in the Woods contracting a mystery illness that the vet announced, in grave tones, “could be something serious” – and we all know what that means.

Through all of it, though, one thing has kept my head above water – quite literally (most of the time – with one notable exception…) and that thing is rowing. It’s partly the sheer, breathtaking beauty of the river.  Even the heaviest heart can be lifted by the smooth glassiness of the water, the ever-changing foliage on the banks (sometimes a little too close for comfort, depending on who’s steering…) and the gentle presence of the cows grazing on the riverbank. It’s partly the sheer concentration demanded by the sport, which doesn’t allow your thoughts to stray to anything further than the end of the blades. And it’s partly the repetitive, rocking rhythm as the blades dip and splash that lulls the most restless spirit into a calmer state of mind.

On the day that our friend was laid to rest, I rowed through the grief and disbelief, tears rolling down my face, knowing that I’d be able to cope better with the pain after the Wye had worked its magic. On days when I’ve had a head full of worries, I’ve pulled my wellies on, confident that for an hour or so those anxieties will be displaced with the more mundane concern about whether it’s me who’s making the boat go down on stroke side (*whisper* I honestly think it is). And if the vet proves to be right, I’ll be heading straight down to the river to drown my sorrows in its muddy waters rather than in a bottle of gin.

Life rarely goes along parallel lines for any of us, and I’m just grateful that I have something in my life that, for all its highs and lows, makes everything important seem somehow unimportant – for a while at least. They should prescribe it on the NHS; it would save the hospitals a fortune.