I’ve known Stella Maris for 28 years. I met her at my first meeting of the Conchological Society at the Natural History Museum in Cromwell Road. The Society has been meeting there since the year dot and continues to the present day.
At my first meeting I took numerous small plastic boxes full of tiny shells I had collected, and sorted into ‘types’, from the strandlines at Porthcurno during a family holiday. Little did I know the very person who could help me would be there and that this would mark the beginning of our friendship.
Stella has lived in Cornwall virtually all here life, with the exception of a short spell spent in New Zealand at the end of the 1920s where her father was a chaplain for 5 years. When I met her she was just a few years younger than I am now. She was President at the time and had served a term as Marine Recorder. I was a complete novice and Stella was my conchological guru. I am now the Marine Recorder and have served as President – I could not possibly have imagined, on that Saturday afternoon in October 1981, that in time I would come to know enough in order to be elected to take on those roles. It was a fellow member who pointed out the coincidence of our names: I am Janice Marissa. Our second names are the genitive form of the Latin word ‘mars’ – it means that we are both ‘of the sea’.
I spent Monday at Stella’s cottage tucked in a valley near Camborne. She has lived there since the 1940s and it is more than a home, it is Stella’s sanctuary and it is a mecca for natural historians. She has shared this home with her husband until he died in 1996 and Rose the botanist has lived there too. Stella’s and Rose’s lives are steeped in natural history and biological recording. Rose has just published a book on the group of flowering plants known as Fumitories. Stella is working on a short local history. She is also a prolific writer of verses. These are usually triggered by something she has seen or heard in the media, a remark that a friend has made, or something she has ‘observed’. Many of these verses have a natural history theme and are accessible on the Web courtesy of Jayne Herbert’s website.
Because the cottage is such a wonderful place to be and the welcome is always warm they are rarely without visitors. Anyone who has been invited to eat round the table in their tiny dining room will know that to share a meal with Stella and Rose is a unique experience.
The planting in the garden has a strong oriental influence and there are huts which house part of the collections. Every fine day the hut doors are opened to air the contents and the doors are closed when the day begins to wane. Rose’s potting shed is immaculate, her tools cleaned and laid out ready, as if to do surgery. When I visit, Stella has recently spent a day with Brian, who has helped her with the heavier jobs with unremitting enthusiasm for nearly half a century. They have set to, rooting out a bamboo which has overstepped the mark. Spears have penetrated the floorboards of the zoology hut, and this will not do!
From Stella I have learned so much about collecting shells, and more importantly keeping good records of what and where I find them so that this information can be used for biodiversity studies, conservation measures, monitoring climate change. This is my bag as Marine Recorder. What I have also learned is that if you make your welcome warm, your visitors will return time and again.