Decades ago, when the mosquitoes got so bad out on St. George Island that people couldn't stand it anymore, the islanders filled burlap sacks with sawdust and motor oil, and heaved them into the marshes where the insects bred.
Some still remember taking turns behind the wheel of a spray truck three times a week, thick, black smoke rising from the contraption and settling onto their homes and lawns. People wore heavy raincoats and boots, as well as cheesecloth over their faces, to work in their gardens, and carried sticks to thrash at the bugs, one islander said.
Now they've got a better weapon: Stanley Carpenter.
"I have the distinction of being Vice President in Charge of Mosquitoes," said the former U.S. Navy submariner, who bought a retirement home on the St. Mary's County island 15 years ago and is an active member of the community association.
When residents feel pestered, annoyed or itchy, they know where to turn. "They have my number," Carpenter said. "They know they can call Stan the mosquito man."
St. George Island -- a flat, marshy crab-claw of land in the Potomac River -- has three main roads, 152 homes and, on a steamy summer evening, more than its fair share of mosquitoes.
"Last year, we could shovel them up," said Othello Jones, who swears that he and his wife, Mary, who was raised on the island, would go into their garage in the morning after spraying extra pesticide and sweep out piles of carcasses.
So now, residents pay $35 in annual dues to the St. George Island Improvement Association, most of it for mosquito destruction, and Carpenter volunteers to ride along with the spray truck to ensure they get their money's worth.
Most communities in the region don't want state trucks to come to fog their neighborhoods with pesticide. People worry about their children, their cats, their vegetable gardens. They question the effectiveness of spraying. They wonder about long-term health effects. They say they can live with an occasional itch.
The District doesn't spray, nor do most of Washington's suburbs. "If you were to talk about doing a fogging program in Arlington or Fairfax or Alexandria, there would be a lot of opposition to it," said David Gaines, an entomologist for the Virginia Department of Health.
But in the low-lying coastal plains of Maryland and Virginia, areas that nurture swarms of buzzing and biting mosquitoes, they've been spraying EPA-approved pesticides for years -- especially in rural areas along the Eastern Shore and in Southern Maryland.
Given concerns about the spread of West Nile virus, more people have been asking for pesticides, said Cyrus Lesser, chief of the mosquito control section of the Maryland Department of Agriculture. Five years ago, fewer than 1,700 communities in Maryland got sprayed, he said, but this year "it's up over 2,200."
Carpenter knows most communities rely on the state's prevention and larvae-attacking plans, and don't pay extra to go after the adult mosquitoes. "They go inside and close their doors," he said on a recent evening. "But people here live in their yards . . . two-thirds of the people down here are weekend and summer people. They come down, kick off their shoes, get a fishing rod and a cold beer and go outside. That's why we're so particular about killing these mosquitoes."
The Department of Agriculture officials usually don't allow people to ride with the spray truck. For St. George Island, they make an exception.
Just about every week in the summer, Carpenter pulls on his St. George Island ball cap emblazoned with an inch-and-a-half-long mosquito, and eases himself into the passenger side of the pickup truck.
"I just see that they do their job," he said, helping direct the buzzing truck, which has a twirling orange light, down all the hidden driveways and lanes. Off the main roads, the island is packed with everything from cramped, run-down trailers to new summer homes with rows of huge windows along the water.
Done right, the job of covering the island takes 21/2 hours, Carpenter said. And so they rumble through patches of woods laced with poison-oak vines, along the edges of marsh where the grass glows green in the evening light, past herons, and osprey nests atop poles, and the rattle of kids skateboarding down the middle of the road. As the sun sets, lights come on along the docks, and soft splashes float back from the fishermen out there.
They talk in the truck, and Carpenter waves to his neighbors. Sometimes the truck is spraying a pale mist that drifts down and wipes out mosquitoes' nervous systems. Sometimes the machine is off, because the spraying would be too close to the water; the pesticide is toxic to fish.
This year, there have been fewer mosquitoes in Maryland than last year's bumper crop, Lesser said. Islanders acknowledge the decrease, but most say they're not about to give up spraying -- especially not in August and September, the buggiest months.
"Last night, I was waxing the car," Othello Jones said, "and they [were eating] me up in there. They tore me up." He tucked a towel under his hat to keep the bugs off his neck while he trimmed his hedges.
As for Carpenter, he kind of likes the mosquitoes.
"They gave me my position," the V.P. title, the prestige, the chance to visit and see everything on the island, he said.
Besides, he said, there are worse varmints out there. "It's the biting flies that are really a nuisance."