First came the bombing and shelling, the window-rattling blasts from the Navy frigates and Air National Guard planes that use an uninhabited island five miles offshore for target practice.
Then, the mosquitoes -- squadrons of them -- attacked in almost unprecedented numbers from the salt marshes and made life miserable for all but the most thick-skinned.
All in all, it was a summer that seemed to make this three square miles of land and marshscape live up to the name shipwrecked sailors chose for it in the 17th century -- Devil's Island -- and it is understandable that folks are glad the fall's first frost is close at hand. To them, autumn means two things: an end to the bombing that runs from February through September and the beginning of cool weather that kills the mosquitoes.
"This was one of the worst years," says Everett Sutter, the island's only doctor. "Between the shelling and mosquitoes, it's a bad place to live."
Of the two afflictions, the mosquitoes this year have taken the greater toll. While insects have been a problem all over the Eastern Shore for months, their assault on Deal Island has been especially severe.
Along with the oyster-dredging skipjacks that are based here, mosquitoes have long been associated with Deal. The use of insecticide began in earnest in 1977, but the mosquitoes proliferated in 1981, aided by a wet spring and abetted by only sporadic spraying by the state and county. State entomologists who measure such things by exposing their own bodies to bug bites recorded "landing counts" as high as 75 mosquitoes a minute.
"Oftentimes at Deal Island, you can only stand staying outside a minute," says Cyrus Lesser, a state insect scientist who helpes with the counts but, thankfully, lives several miles away in Salisbury. "You try to slap them as fast as they land, but, after a time, they land faster than you can slap.
"There is physical and mental stress, and I'm not being facetious," Lesser said. "It really puts a strain, especially on people with kids. You can't let 'em out. It really wears on the nerves. If you feel you can't go out and wash your car or pick a few tomatoes, it really has a debilitating impact."
Craig S. Webster, the president of the local Lions Club, says mosquitoes are "part of a greater problem we have here on Deal Island." Deal's economy, he notes, has never recovered from the devastating effects of a 1933 hurricane. "We need tourists, and with high counts of mosquitoes," he says, "you can't expect them to visit."
Sometimes, however, adversity has advantages.
"We do a booming business in bug spray and repellents, especially on holiday weekends when strangers come around," said Helen Sutter, who runs the general store that she and her husband the doctor own. If all else fails, he treats the out-of-towners with antihistamines and cortisone ointments.
Everett Sutter also serves as the official "point of contact" with the Navy. It is his unpaid job to register residents' complaints over the blasts emanating from the nearby Bloodsworth Island Shore Bombardment and Bombing Range. He always calls collect. "They always accept my calls," he says.
"They bomb almost daily, except during ducking season," Sutter said. "I think that's because some people from Washington own duck blinds."
The target practice, long suffered in silence by patriotic islanders, has been going on since 1942 off Bloodsworth. When, in the 1970s, the shelling grew so intense that its reverberations broke windows and cracked ceilings, their silence ended. Then, the complaints could be heard all the way to Washington.
The government paid out $39,350 in claims and promised to tone down its act. The Navy followed up by conducting atmospheric studies to learn about "sound focus"--a natural phenomenon in which atmospheric conditions can amplify and direct loud noises--and it tried to adjust its shelling schedules accordingly.
Now, when atmospheric conditions cooperating in muting the booming of the bombs and shells, the only noise you hear is the buzzing of mosquitoes.
"They were bad yesterday, and it was blowing, too," said Evelyn Murray, who works at the Sutters' store. "The day before, oh, my Lord. You run from the house to the car. You keep a can of spray on the back doorstep. I don't think you ever get used to it."