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Vancouver Sun: Cutting Wood satisfies; writing satisfies more
Tom Henry lives with his writer wife Lorna Jackson and their five-year-old daughter, Lily, in what many would fondly consider near-idyllic circumstances.

Their home is a rented 90-year-old cabin on about 50 acres of farmland bordering an ocean bay near Metchosin, on the southern tip of Vancouver Island.

In the woods away from the house, Henry has fixed up an old logger's shack with a woodstove, a table and an old chair, and that's where he writes.

Twice a finalist for the B.C. Book Awards, Henry, 35, is best known for his recent collection of short, humorous pieces about country life, Dogless in Metchosin. Another collection of anecdotes and observations is in the works.

He writes the way he lives - simply, honestly, and with a continuing delight in the down-to-earth detail of day-to-day life in the country.

Idyllic? Maybe. But realistic? No. He is not, he stresses, "hippie enough" to be a full-fledged back-to-the-lander.

Born in Duncan and raised on a farm in the northern part of the province, Henry worked as a logger until he gave it up to become a writer about a decade ago. He followed a history/writing BA at the University of Victoria with newspaper work around B.C.

He splits his time about 50-50 between doing odd jobs - fencing, gardening, woodcutting, haying, or out on the water as a dock hand or boom man - and writing about it.

"Cutting wood is very satisfying, he says, "but, writing about -if you're forced to think about why you like it - You get to live it twice, don't you?”

Most of his pieces are initially written for his weekly radio column carried on CBC Radio in B.C. He seems genuinely modest about his work.

"I feel I'm not skilled at anything - I'm probably a good woodcutter. Everything else I'm competent at. That's the price you pay for being a professional generalist. I'll never be as good a writer as I'd be if I worked at it eight hours a day. I'm like a career 14-year-old - I'm always learning from people around me."
-Max Wyman, Vancouver Sun


Quill and Quire Review
When Tom Henry reads excerpts from his stories about rural life in Metchosin, B.C., his voice and accent sound familiar in a homey sort of way. Many listeners will have heard him on the radio in his role as the CBC's "Country Life" columnist. His style evokes the familiar world of Stephen Leacock, although Henry definitely belongs to his own time. It's hard to imagine Leacock rhapsodizing about the "horny, lonely, unsatisfied" sounds of a country spring, or, for that matter, whispering "bugger off" to some Canada geese. It seems certain too that Leacock did not, as Henry tells us he did, sleep in the nude.

Henry sets the stage with sound effects: car engines, wood saws, Henry’s daughter's piping voice, the snipping of barber's shears. These frame a series of anecdotal tales based on his present and past. The fact that the life Henry describes has become increasingly exotic to the majority of us only adds to its charm. A genial tour guide, he introduces us to the BC "estate car," an "unlicensed, uninsured, and generally dilapidated vehicle used for running, errands on one's own property." He describes his adventures with raising chickens, extols the civic importance of the town barber, takes us through a sweaty day in haying season, and explores useful "Tricks to Finding Stuff in a Ditch.”

Like a social anthropologist, Henry digs for the allegory in the most basic of circumstances - the baser the better. When the son of a Sacred MLA tears apart a beautifully constructed outhouse after it swallows his wallet, Henry speculates about this act and its possible political meaning. Closely observing his chickens' behaviour, he notes that the more chickens, the greater their intelligence, which is just the opposite of human beings, "who get stupider and stupider in groups." From the making of soups as a measure of family harmony to the swinging of axes as a measure of the father-son bond, Henry opens a door into world we remember with affection, even – or perhaps especially – if it is a world we never knew at all.
-Nancy Wigston, Quill and Quire


Monday Magazine: Snug and smug in the country
Tom Henry lives in a small shack at the head of a bay in Metchosin. He spends his days working as a labourer, puttering around the house, splitting wood and doting over his daughter, Lily.

The lucky bastard.

A sense of contentment runs through this series of tales of rural living and sunny outlooks. In a lesser writer it might be irritating, but somehow Henry is so honest, and so acute in his observations, that it is hard to mind.

Even his ruminations on subjects like gardening and soup recipes are funny, bringing in personal and cultural histories along with a snapshot of a life as healthy and fulfilling as a good day's work.

These anecdotes are compiled from Henry's column on country life, which he regularly reads on CBC radio's Afternoon Show.

On the radio, where they usually are inserted between breathy live updates of Vancouver's rush hour traffic woes, they sound rather like a smug letter to a friend who has been foolish enough to leave the Island and go live in a big city - the kind that reads: "Dear cousin Agatha, today we had a great hike in East Sooke Park and saw a sea-lion. It was 10 degrees Celsius, so we had to wear our sweaters, but that’s OK for January. So how are things in Scarborough?”

But if you're homesick, it's kind of nice to read one of those letters, and if you’re staying home, it’s kind of nice to write one. This is a great book for all Islanders, home and away.
-Fiona McCaw, Monday Magazine


A Rich Legacy of Canadiana
You may know Tom Henry as the country columnist on CBC radio's The Afternoon Show. Perhaps you’ve read his book The Good Company: An Affectionate History of the Union Steamships, which won the BC Historical Federation’s Lieutenant Governor’s Award.

The Metchosin writer released a new book Saturday - Dogless in Metchosin and it’s a good way to get to know him. And savor life in the country.

You’ve probably guessed that Tom doesn't have a dog. But he has chickens, a daughter, a wife, and a penchant for telling great little stories. These are warm and humorous anecdotes voiced by a man with sagacious insight into human nature.

The collection is a must-read for urbanites harboring fantasies about lifestyle. I haven't finished all the stories yet, but I know I will.
-Stephanie Chamberlain, Times Colonist


Book Reviews: Metchosin Authors
Dogless in Metchosin, surely that's an oxymoron. Seven hundred dogs are registered in our community of 1,600 houses and who knows how many are walking the other side of the canine law? On our humble little seaside road, dogs live in trios and pairs and evening walkers are regularly faced with running a barking gauntlet. So why are there no dogs to be found at Tom Henry's house? Dogless in Metchosin, Henry's collection of Country Life columns, which can be heard on the CBC's Afternoon Show, holds the key to that particular mystery and I'm not about to give it away.

Amusing and conversational, Dogless in Metchosin is a collection of 60 vignettes that explore the philosophies and characters of Tom Henry's curiously timeless country of hewing of wood and drawing of water. This land is for the most part a rural idyll populated with eccentrics and old guys - which incidently, despite his 34 years, Tom Henry (who admits to enjoying sorting hardware into coffee cans) is an old guy - and most importantly, with his family, the love for whom casts an enviable shadow over all he writes.

Henry's writing style, steeped in the oral tradition and laced with a drop or two of E. B. White and Garrison Keillor, meanders from place and character, and frequently shifts in time - from Metchosin, to the Peace River Country, to Duncan or Vancouver. Throughout the anecdotes the reader meets Tom as a child, a teen, as a logger, gardener and university student, as well as a host of other Henry kin and friends. We are treated to philosophizing on mudrooms, barter, the virtue of old trucks, soup and manual labour as well as observations on cussing, community groups, and what makes a good lunch when working out in the rain or during haying season. Almost all are served with a dollop of humour. One of his best pieces pays tribute to two writers and B.C. naturalists, countrymen: Bruce Hutchinson and Roderick Haig-Brown.

This is the perfect book for casual reading or even better, for reading aloud to friends and family.

Reading Dogless in Metchosin in a few sittings rather than grazing through it as perhaps one should, left me strangely nostalgic for a time in my life that was pre-mortgage and before some of life's challenges knocked on my door. This I believe is because Tom Henry is above all a rural romantic. Equally at home with Chekhov and chainsaws, he is interested in recording mainly the upside of country life and of life in general. His is a cheery, welcome voice, one that many look forward to each Thursday afternoon on the CBC, and his book should appeal to both the faller and the woman who taps out her living at the keyboard of her computer, hopefully with a pair of wet dogs nearby steaming and snoozing by the warmth of the woodstove.
-Suzanne Steele, Metchosin Muse


Country Lifestyle at centre of new book
A Metchosin writer, with a flair for comedy, has written a book about his country lifestyle.

Tom Henry's Dogless in Metchosin is a collection of humorous essays that had its beginnings in a hayfield one hot June day in 1993.

"I was haying for a farmer down the road here," Henry said Tuesday from his Speyside Lane home, bordering the Beecher Bay Indian Reserve.

Henry, 34, enjoyed the work so much, he wrote a freelance piece for the Vancouver Sun.

That led to a call from a CBC Radio producer who wanted Henry to do a series about country life.

In the fall of 1993, Henry became the CBC's country life columnist and he does twice-weekly broadcasts Mondays and Wednesdays which he tapes from his back porch and sends to CBC’s radio studios by bus.

Harbour Publishing of Pender Harbour asked Henry to "retool" his radio columns into a book, which became Dogless in Metchosin.

Henry also has written The Good Company, a history of Union Steamships, and Paul Bunyan on the West Coast.

Born in Duncan, Henry spent most of his life on Vancouver Island, except for six years on a grain farm.

From a family of avid readers that included four brothers and a sister, Henry said he became interested in writing when he was 26 or 27.

He remembers the moment when writing definitely became attractive to him. He was working as a hook tender in a logging camp, wet and cold on a mountain slope in Phillips Arm, south of Knight Inlet.

"I didn't want to be doing that forever," said Henry.

He enrolled in creative writing and history at the University of Victoria - "I really like B.C. history. I've always been a history buff" - in 1986 and came out with degrees in both in 1990.

While at UVic, Henry worked at the weekly 100 Mile House Free Press and the Cranbrook Daily Townsmen, where he learned the grind of producing stories.

"It just made me realize stories could be written in a short time."

He also did a stint in the communications branch of the federal Dept. of Indian and Northern Affairs in Whitehorse.

Henry worked for two years at Monday Magazine as a staff writer before being fired.

"Thank Christ I was. At the time, I didn't like it."

Henry estimates that half his income is derived from his writing and the other half from log booms, logging, gardening and other general handyman jobs.

He and Lorna Jackson, who is also an author and has written Dressing for Hope, are striving for some degree of self-sufficiency.

Henry said country living is about keeping one's nose clean and learning such skills as fencing and how to preserve things.

Dogless in Metchosin is about their rural lifestyle.

"It describes how I learned those things," Henry said.

He has been working for about a year on a new book, a biography on the life of Gwyn Grey Hill.

"He's an idiosyncratic Englishman who sailed the (west) coast from 1935 to 1985 and knew it better than anyone ever has or ever will."

Henry said Grey Hill's vessels were instantly recognizable for their filth, "and so was he."

Henry, was able to meet Grey Hill once before he died this June in Cowichan.

Henry has all of Grey Hill's log books plus well over a thousand of his letters.

Grey Hill, described as an alcoholic who had an excellent memory but no time for mundane pleasantries, was in his 80s when he died.

"He embodies at least two eras of coastal history. He virtually wrote essays on what the coast was like in each era."

Henry and Jackson are hosting a book launch Saturday at the Metchosin Preschool, 4354 Metchosin Rd.
-King Lee, Victoria Times Colonist