National Geographic : 1967 Sep
Burst of bloom rewards hardscrabble gardening for the Ernest Autin family. Fortifying the island's glacial earth with organic fertilizers from nearby stables, they grow phlox, nasturtiums, dahlias, lupines, pansies, and peonies. Some homeowners proudly till plots of soil brought from France as ballast in the days of sail. Each year the Autins' birdhouse attracts a family of sparrows. TV antenna receives programs in English from Newfoundland and in French from a new station on St. Pierre. Tin-can windbreaks protect young cabbage plants from gales that sweep the islands. Because of the short growing season, the St. Pierrais start their plants indoors. Coaxing everything pos sible from their skimpy soil, they raise little patches of onions, carrots, endives, beets, parsley, leeks, and succulent lettuce. live in St. Pierre all winter. It's good for children to have fresh air," M. Briand said. Tiny firs gave the houses a curious scale. Ed climbed to the top of Cap a la Vierge for a view-"Just like a relief map," as he put it. And certainly, on a clear day, this point offers a vivid spread of geography. Three sizable islands and a handful of rocks comprise the 93 square miles of this French territory. Most populous, with 4,600 residents, is the capital, St. Pierre. Across the choppy four-mile strait at our feet loomed Lan glade, green and tall, the largest island, with most of the terri tory's farms. Fishermen who know and dread the treachery of this channel-La Baie-call it Gueule d'Enfer, "Mouth of Hell." Beyond, and connected to Langlade by a sand strip, stretch es the northernmost island of Miquelon, where 600 fisherfolk live beside an unprotected cres cent port (map, page 396). Murder on ile aux Marins "When you sailed into St. Pierre, you passed Ile aux Marins -Sailors' Island," said M. Briand as we drove toward the fish freezing plant. "Good view of it from here." "Spitting image of Ile de Sein, the little fishing island off Brit tany," I remarked. "It, too, is fa mous for its shipwrecks, but those go back to Phoenician times." Years ago the island had hun dreds of year-round residents. Now it's only a convenience for the 40-odd people who summer there. Fishermen can always launch dories from Sailors' Island-even in storms when St. Pierre harbor is too rough. M. Briand's eyes narrowed. "Have you ever heard about the murder we had on Ile aux Marins?" We had not. "In 1898 a fisherman named Neel killed a friend there with a fish knife! A savage thing!