Femorale - +25 Years
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Limitations to shell collecting

Do you think that it is difficult to collect shells? Do you belong to a shell club that is way too small? Would you like to see more activities? Or worse, perhaps you know only a few friends who collect shells but not enough to have your own shell club? A friend of mine lives in Brasilia where there is only one other collector and he says it sucks! But what if you are probably the only shell collector in the entire country?

Yes, we met a very special collector: Markus Niiranen from Finland. He came to our office and spent a couple of days checking out our stock. He is 22 years old and came to Brazil on vacation with a friend, stayed a few days in Fortaleza and came down to São Paulo just to meet us, which was a big honor.

Did I mention that he is a special collector? He had surgery when he was 2 years old, which made him completely blind. Shells for him are not just a matter of beauty but a new world of shapes and textures. While in my office, he wanted to check nearly everything and I handed him all possible shells, except those way too small.

This experience caused me to also start looking at shells in a different way since I had to find for him extreme variations while ignoring the visual effect of colors. Have you tried closing your eyes and feeling your shells? If not, I suggest you do that; it is a very nice sensation. Of course, Markus has a much better tactile experience and he is probably able to describe a shell much better than most people can.

It was amazing to see how he reacted to many different species. And again, I was surprised to learn that his preferred family is Cypraeidae! If anyone had asked me if it would be possible to love this family without seeing it, I would probably say no. But he was able to distinguish species only by touching them. So, one more "magical" reason Cypraeas are by far the most wanted shells among all families.

Markus uses a special notebook computer with a Braille machine attached to it. He is very fast using the computer and is able to do most things we usually do, including visiting websites. We changed the settings on his notebook so that he could use my broadband Internet connection. While he was working on his computer, I checked mine to see what needed changing. I must concede that he was faster than I was.

I always say shell collecting is not just a matter of having something nice locked inside drawers for your own appreciation ("My precious!"). Shell collecting is about enjoying nature, acquiring culture, traveling to new places and most important, meeting interesting people. Our lives have revolved around shells since we were kids. During all this time, we met hundreds of shell collectors and most of them became our friends. When we think we now know it all, a new collector comes from a very distant place and teaches us much more!

P.S. You can read about another renowned blind shell scientist, Geerat Vermeij who was born in Holland and teaches evolutionary geology at U.C. Davis in California. See http://www.dateline.ucdavis.edu/dl_detail.lasso?id=7651

English check by John Wolff

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