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Watery grave awaits cemeteries near shorelines as sea level rises

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Author Topic: Watery grave awaits cemeteries near shorelines as sea level rises  (Read 68 times)
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« on: March 19, 2016, 03:33:21 pm »

My dear friend and mentor was Kenneth Lynn Gosner, a naturalist and writer who led me gently, and with artful instruction, into the path of science. Later in life he had an operation on a heart valve defect, but it was only a temporary success.

In recovery he joined us aboard Capt Jack Russell's skipjack, The Dee of Saint Mary's one autumn day on the Patuxent River. Gosner, in addition to being a marine biologist, was a pretty good maritime historian who had preserved the plans of many old fishing vessel types. He built a number of wonderfully detailed ship models for exhibit in the Newark Public Museum in New Jersey. I possess an unfinished model, which, along with some of his half-hull builder's models, are on display in my library.

Gosner had researched Chesapeake skipjacks and corresponded with the Smithsonian's Howard I. Chapelle, whose own naval architectural drawings rescued many Chesapeake working watercraft types from oblivion.

He had been aboard many commercial fishing vessels in his time, from the Caribbean to the near Arctic, but he took special delight as Russell dragged for oysters. (There were not many in the Patuxent that cold autumn day...nor since!) Reflecting on his then precarious health, he said to me, "Kent, I think I'd like my funeral to be on this ship." And smiling at me he added: "You can shoot my ashes out of your cannon!"

So, when my good friend died, I called up Russell and told him about Gosner's wishes. It was early in the day, when together with Ken's widow, Pamela, and son, Kevin, aboard, we set out from St Georges Creek off the lower Potomac. The shafts of sun were low and slanting down to the junction of this great river and Chesapeake as the tide swept us along.

Russell, his mate John Fulchiron and I rolled my cannon, a 185-pound, cast iron reproduction gun, to the rail on its wooden naval carriage and secured the rope falls against the ship's roll and its own recoil.

I'd taken the cremains and made them part of a cement projectile for the cannon.

We loaded him up atop a charge of black gunpowder and I put a percussion cap in place over the vent, flipped back the brass cannon-lock and smartly pulled the lanyard. The snap of primer was followed instantly by the roar and recoil as the gun belched fire and smoke, leaping back against her tethers. Gosner shot out in a great arc across the low clouds.

The shot struck the Bay, rebounded once, ricocheting off the water before plunging home into a rising wave with a fountain of water spraying 12 feet into the air.

Gosner's widow and son sprinkled his remaining ashes over the rail in a tearful farewell. I spoke on what I thought significant about this manner of burial for a man who'd loved and studied the sea. This is the gist of that, recorded in my logbook.

"Today we fulfilled his wish to be borne aboard the Dee on his final voyage...while part of him is now in the Bay for all geologic time-some of the cremains (those sprinkled into the waters) now enter circulation throughout the World's oceans, a journey of some 6,000 years."

In this amount of time, oceanographers estimate, the sea cycles water masses 'round a long "ocean conveyer" eventually returning portions to where they started.

"What will those molecules of Ken Gosner the year 8000...when the salt wedge (at the Bay's mouth) returns them to what was once called the Chesapeake? Will it be as changed as...6,000 years ago [when] people in Mesopotamia scribed the Gilgamesh Epic in moist clay? What an interesting journey, old friend."
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