In this recent photo, I am standing on Helen Street Beach, just up the street from the summer cottage where I spent most of my summers as a child and to which I have returned often as an adult. Not at all like Nantasket Beach (known by us children as either “The Big Beach” or “The Sandy Beach”), Helen Street Beach is neither sandy nor long. Instead of smooth sand, much of it consists of boulders of various shapes, textures, and colors. They clump together on a rise that abuts a battered concrete seawall. Between this wall of rock and the shore, a small strip of gravelly sand competes with shells, seaweed, and barnacled mussels that have also claimed this territory. Depending on the daily tide and occasional storm surge, the stony patches of sand on Helen Street Beach might either be sufficient for a couple of sand chairs or so skimpy that one must settle for laying a towel across a flat boulder.
Year-round and seasonal residents living on one of the six streets of the community called Pemberton claim Helen Street Beach during the summer months. The small neighborhood consists of four small parallel streets and two longer ones. Helen, Arthur, and Mildred Streets were most likely named for family members of the developer. The fourth street, Town Way, may have indicated the route of a passenger train line that once brought beachgoers to the farthest point of land on this once-posh seaside peninsula on Boston’s South Shore. An old railroad bed, a relic from that era, still sits at an angle alongside this street. Channel Street links these four streets on the ocean side and Main Street, links them on the bayside.
It was on Helen Street Beach when, at the age of seven, I wrote my first poem. That day, while sitting on my favorite perch–a rippled pink granite boulder shaped like a lopsided bench – my gaze traveled beyond the stretch of beach to the shoreline. I noticed rust-colored seaweed riding the tide in and out, in and out. Rather than the thick lasagna noodle-shaped seaweed so common at Helen Street Beach, I preferred the type my friends and I called “pop bead” seaweed. Thin strands of charcoal-colored seaweed held swollen, rounded bead-like sacs at their tips. How I loved squeezing the pouches between my thumb and index finger until they burst and released a spray of liquid that dribbled down my arm!
Mesmerized by the rhythmic dance of the seaweed riding the tide back and forth between shore and sea, my imagination brought forth these lines:
Seaweed seaweed, you’re my pal,
But oh, how I wish you were my gal!
There’s so much to deconstruct here: the repetition, the rhyme, the earnest tone; the longing to transcend my human condition and join the seaweed’s graceful dance. The impassioned exclamation point that punctuates what became the poem’s refrain; the implication of an existing friendship between my young self and these marine algae. And the melodrama of the exclamation “but oh, how”, an expression of my unattainable desire for a deeper connection to this marine plant.
I still spend time on Helen Street Beach during the summer months. Sometimes I even sit on that same pink granite boulder and watch the tidal waves rocking seaweed to and fro. All these decades later, I am still hypnotized by their rhythmic dance. Standing at the shore, I’m still apt to pick up a clutch of pop-bead seaweed and burst its swollen beads between my fingers with delight.