When those days vanished in puffs of smoke – divorces, remarriages, moves across country – the visits to the tidepools ended for Molly. Three thousand miles away, my mother started over with Pacific tidepools. The only relationship that endured was the friendship between Molly and me.
Recently I visited Molly in Massachusetts. Her mother died some years ago, and when I persuaded Molly that we should revisit the tidepools, no one could tell us exactly where on Nahant we had gone. On the only available day, we went to the Nahant peninsula at low tide.
We drove around looking for rocky shores with tidepools. We asked a jogger if she knew where there were tidepools, or where we could park so we could look. She said “Nahant's a great town, but it's not very friendly to people who want to park.” She didn't know what to suggest.
When we came to East Point, I was pretty sure we had found the place. The minute you see East Point, you know it has great tidepools among its tumbles of big rocks festooned with seaweed. But those tidepools are next to Northeastern University's Marine Science Center (which didn't exist when I was a kid). You can drive out there, but they won't let you park. It's miles out, at the end of the peninsula, surrounded by lovely seascapes and No Parking signs, another of the scenes of my childhood that's off limits.
We parked anyway.
A field trip of high school kids was there. Most were only interested in jumping from rock to rock and climbing the cliffs. We met one intelligent boy who had figured out the best ways to locate crabs and was happy to pass along his discoveries. When angry teachers made the class leave because a few kids misbehaved, Molly and I had it to ourselves.
Molly examined a pool with a deep, irregular crevice on one side. “There's something in here,” she said. We could just see two suspicious eyes peering back at us. A crab? A shrimp? Neither of us felt like sticking our fingers in to be pinched. On dry land we might have put a small stick in the crevice to see if the creature would grab it and be pulled out. “The thing about tidepools is there are no sticks lying around,” Molly noted.
Cracks in the rocks were filled with clusters of small gold snails. There were little dark green crabs. There were mussels and barnacles and limpets. There were small sea urchins, banded with white and tan and pale green. There were pink five-rayed starfish. One silver dollar-sized starfish had four long rays and one extremely short one that was regenerating after some unfortunate incident. There were pink algae like the algae in California, both the kind that makes a flat crust on rocks or shells and the foliose kind like pink parsley. They seemed like they might be a slightly different pink than the California kind, a bit more of a salmon color, but I couldn't be sure.
We had to hurry away, but I found great things under the last few rocks. Under one were two little crabs feasting on a pulled-off claw from a big crab. Under another were two eel-shaped fish like California blennies, with elegant narrow vertical stripes on the dorsal fin. Under a third was something I had never seen in the Pacific: a baby lobster, three or four inches long, holding up its claws in case it needed to pinch me. It was a handsome, subtly-colored creature, and the minute I saw its suspicious eyes I knew that the creature Molly had found peering from the crevice had also been a baby lobster.
From talking to my mother and looking at Molly's mother's notebook, it seems that they never found lobsters at Nahant back in the day. On the web I found some recent research saying you can find baby lobsters in the intertidal zone (research about how to do a lobster census). I also read that the main predators of baby lobsters are codfish. I knew that overfishing had drastically reduced the number of cod in the last few decades. I also knew that the lobster fishery was in great shape, catching lots of lobsters. So I suspect that the reason our families hadn't found baby lobsters at Nahant years ago was that the cod had been getting them. The fact that Molly and I found lobsters may be a sign of codfish in trouble.
In the short time we had been out on the rocks we had gotten a parking ticket.