On the island of Hœdic, winter is a cocoon and summer a challenge


Hoedic (Morbihan)

From our special correspondent

“You know, we are a territory of the Republic like any other. “ Jean-Luc Chiffoleau, 73 years old and mayor of Hœdic sighs when he is told about a report on this island “at the end of the world”, nearly two hours by boat from Quiberon. “Okay, here everything is an exception, he recognizes after reflection. But like a remote mountain village, not a desert island! “

On 200 hectares, surrounded by coves with turquoise and cold water, a few hundred inhabitants face winter. “It’s a life behind closed doors. We say there are a hundred, but frankly sometimes I think we are more like fifty … “, Samuel Kergal slips by setting up the tables at Chez Jean-Paul. The address is popular among the five restaurants on the island. He has been working there for almost thirty years, Chez Jean-Paul belongs to his mother-in-law.

Samuel came to Hœdic with his wife and children about twenty years ago. She was a bookseller and the books are now sold in the restaurant. He became a breeder, the only one on the island. “Initially, I had thought of market gardening, but the Conservatoire du littoral directed me towards sheep farming, he recounts. After training I started with a dozen sheep to see if it was viable.

Today, the herd includes more than a hundred animals, from the Landes of Brittany. The breed is hardy. No sheepfold, no grain, no medicine. Outside to nibble on the undergrowth, all year round. Raised for their meat, the sheep reach the Vannes slaughterhouse by boat. “I asked for a processing room on the island to make sausages, explains Samuel. We will see what it gives. On the way, a resident reports that some sheep have packed up on the western slope. The breeder goes to collect them: “I wouldn’t want them to cause damage. “ The occasional walkers, trekking poles in hand despite the ban in force on the island, seem much less concerned about the damage to vegetation caused by their pointed ends.

In winter, Hœdic is served by a single daily return trip – if the sea allows it. But in July-August, several companies dock on the island, not to mention the boaters. “More than 3,000 people come for the day”, figure Jean-Luc Chiffoleau. The hermit and tight-knit community then turns into a bustling anthill. Seasonal workers are joining the ranks of the few working people. Water treatment facilities, pumped from an underground water table, are no longer keeping pace. The elected representative sometimes finds himself obliged to make cuts. The iridescent sand, for the moment devoid of any butt, is littered with scattered waste despite sorting bins in the village. “Some go wild camping and incivility is increasing”, laments the one who begins his second term. Three gendarmes come to ensure security on the island during the summer. Jean-Luc Chiffoleau is especially worried about sailboats and other yachts which anchor too close to the coast or reach the shore with motor boats, to the contempt of those who paddle.

” There are too many people “, edge Émilie Moisdon, coastal guard for over twenty years, and member of the only music group on the island. Bluntly, she denounces the increasing degradation of the paths which pass in the middle of the viperine and wild bees. “It may seem paradoxical, but it’s winter that we feel the least isolated here, she confides. This is the period when you can take the time to visit each other, when the island is peaceful. “ In summer, the tourist frenzy frightens the inhabitants like the pheasants who squat the football field.

At the care center, there is already a wait, for a splinter or a bad fall. Two nurses ensure the health of the Hœdicais throughout the year. For Marie-Laure Klingner, this position allows you to exercise the profession like nowhere else. “In such a small community, patient follow-up is exceptional, describes the young Alsatian in front of her cafe. Concern for others is much more present than in the city. Don’t tell me that here people are more alone than in Paris! “

His colleague Hadrien Destrehem, in office for nine years, abounds. “The welcome, the mutual aid and the richness of the work made me stay, explains the native of Calais. I can take care of a hook in my arm, accompany patients at the end of their life, do gynecological follow-ups… You have to be trained and ready for anything, all the time. “ The health center has a small pharmacy for emergencies. The closest doctor is in Houat, the neighboring island, and the specialists on the mainland. “Fortunately, if needed, we have telemedicine.I don’t miss the frantic consumption of the continent ”, adds Marie-Laure, who wonders if the health crisis and teleworking will bring more families to live on the island. “Winter loneliness can be overwhelming and you have to learn to tame it, resumes the young woman while the neighbor’s cat rubs her calves. Friends and family visit me but my choice seems surprising to them. “ A few houses further on, in the cool of the library, Marguerite Le Berre, known as “Maggie”, exposes in her soft voice: “Those who really love Hœdic come out of season. “ As we marvel at the full shelves, she smiles: “You know, we read a lot on the islands, to pass the time. “ Accustomed to Hoedic since the 1970s, Maggie ended up settling there permanently almost thirty years ago with her husband, now deceased.

She takes a booklet from a shelf retracing the history of Notre-Dame-la-Blanche church. A little away from the houses, perched on a promontory stuck to the old semaphore, the church with the spectacular starry blue vault normally brings the inhabitants together for prayer and conviviality on short winter days. “But our priest retired a few months ago, he was very tired, explains the librarian. Replacements come from time to time, and we hope to have a new priest for September. “ Meanwhile, Maggie admires ” creation “ on this rock in Morbihan: “No pollution, no noise, just nature and the chance to live here. “ His grandson points it out to him on each visit: “Grandma, it’s great with you because the garden has no barriers!” “ With no cars on the island, there is no risk of traffic accident. The play area is only to be shared with wild rabbits and limited by the waves.

When they leave school, the children scatter in the streets of the village. Yannick Moisson, the teacher, has been taking care of the only class for three years, from kindergarten to CM2. “It’s a lot of work but a privileged exchange with the students”, he slips. The college is located in Houat. The teenagers take the boat every morning, their eyes still full of sleep. For high school, it’s boarding school on the continent. The distance with ” France “, as the Hœdicais say, then makes itself felt. For the young people of the island, the break is consumed. Even if, sometimes, they return to settle among the hollyhocks for another life.

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