Every day now the old timers gathers at Albert Gladden's General Store and complain about the mosquitos that have taken over this small waterfront community on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
"I've been here all my life - 69 years almost - and I tell you brother, I've never seen anything like it," Gladden says in hsi casual country manner. "You go out in the strawberry patch behind here and within two minutes they'll be on top of one another trying to get at you."
"It doesn't matter who you are," he adds, staring across his old glass counter. "They don't have any respect for any person. They're the biggest kind you've ever seen. They're monsters. Down here, they just eat your tail off. I don't know if we ain't been living right, or what."
Ever since early April, the mosquitoes have virtually monopolized conversation in Gladden's old country store and every place else up and down State Route 363 in the tiny towns of Dames Quarter, Monie, Oriole. Wenona and Deal Island.
The bugs are salt marsh mosquitoes , which have descended on this area like the seven-year locust in cloud-like swarms. When state pest control officers first tested the population here three week ago, they found an average of 100 mostuitoes landed on each human every 60 seconds.
"That's very high. It's a freakish, abnormal thing," says Dr. Robert Altman, chief of the pest management section of the Maryland Department of Agriculture. The area attracts mosquitoes ever year, but never so many, so early in the warm season.
It was apparently caused by a combination of high tides, rain and warm weather in late March and early April, he said. The tides flooded the low marsh areas, which are barely above the sea level, and salt marsh mosquito eggs that were laid in the marsh soil last fall were hatched as a result.
Now, almost everyone here has a mosquito story of his own. Each seems bigger than the last.
Walter James, a lifelong resident and president of the local Lions Clubs, tells of putting up his house for sale because the mosquitoes have gotten so bad. Elsie Parks, the postmistress, tells of a neighbor who puts on her heavy raincoat and winter wool trousers to go outside and take clothes off the line.
Helen Sutter, a nurse and store keeper, tells of the woman who came into her place saying she had spotted a fire in the distance. "We started over to look and the smoke she thought she had seen proved to be swarms of mosquitoes," she recalls.
"I've been hollering loud can clear about it for weeks," Mrs. Sutter continues in her store on Deal Island. "An awful lot of people are saying they'll put their homes up for sale unless something is done. We've got a lot of people who've moved down here to retire. They just won't put up with this."
The complaints have drawn a swarm of state and county officials to this low lying marsh country at the edge of the Chesapeake Bay on the far southern tip of Maryland's Eastern Shore.
Officials have regularly charted the severity of the problem and have held a series of meetings with local residents. The only thing the meetings have produced so far is a small county spray truck that visits the area daily. The trucks has become somewhat of a local joke.
"The truck doesn't fdo any good. It just drives down the middle of the highway and every once in a while it puffs out a little bit of spray," says Dr. E.C. Sutter, the only physician in the area. "It doesn't even kill the mosquitoes on the pavement to say nothing of the roadsides."
State officials met with the Somerset County commissioners last Tuesday and offered to contribute $5,000 toward spraying a 10,000 acre area with a more potent aerial spray. As of yesterday, however, the county had not decided if it wants to put oup a matching $5,000 needed for the sparying.
"I have the insecticide. I have the airpline. I have the permit," Altman said last night. "Now it's up to the county to decide if it wants to put up its share of the money."
The mosquito population dropped dramatically in Chance and Deal Island this week as temperatures fell and high winds blew off the Chesapeake Bay, but the survey by state pest officials yesterday found extremely large numbers of mosquitoes and larvae in the surrrounding marsh area.
Mosquitoes traditionally build up for several days in marsh lands before moving inland, indicating Chance can expect another battle wave of the insects week unless it is sprayed, according to Altman.
Dee Marvel, whose 2-year-old daughter is allergic to mosquito bites, is dreading just gsuch a reoccurence.
In a letter to the Salisbury Times last week, she said, "Our community, once a paradise, has now become a nigthmare. We are virtually prisoners in our homes for 24 hours a day (because of mosquitoes) . . . all that can be heard is the slapping at mosquitoes and the spray cans going night and day. Before I'm devoured, may I say one last word, 'Help!"