Sunday Pond Hockey

text and paintings by Jessica Stammen


With snow-blower and shovel we create a rectangle of clean, clear space on the farm pond.  Like a new stretched canvas all gessoed and sanded down, like a fresh sheet of paper upon which to write, we make a space for rest and recreation.  It is Sunday after all.  We give quick tugs to our laces much in the same way that I flex and soften a bristled brush in my palm before painting, much in the same way that I roll pen in hand to warm it before writing – with anticipation.  We step onto the ice and – glide, dash, cut, race, scrape! – for three hours we make marks all across the surface.  An entire afternoon of mark making.  And we call it pond hockey.

Later I try and make these same marks with my paintbrush; and then again, too, with my pen.

On that Sunday we made marks with our skates, sure.  But there were also marks made in the air by our voices, sometimes shrill with excitement and joy, sometimes grunting in effort when we would reach with our sticks or push each other into the snow banks on the side of the rink.

There were the marks made by our eyes darting to follow the puck, squinting in snappy sunlight, or softening as the sun glowed warm and low, turning the red tractor on the hill more red and illuminating smoke puffing from the portable woodstove nearby.  Max’s brother fired it up and began to heat a pot of cider.  Soon we would all huddle ‘round and dip our cups, steam rising from them and from us in exhaustion, a marked difference from the more forceful breaths of exertion seen earlier.  Around the woodstove marks of new acquaintances and friendships became apparent.

How are these marks translated into image and word?  So much about writing, about outdoor writing, is the re-creation of recreation.  There is adventure within adventure as we retrace the marks we made in and through the land, in and through our mind.  In calling up images and impressions there is more to be had.  Always more.  Painter Stuart Shills writes that “subject matter, or the ‘what is it’ part of what an image is, on many levels really doesn’t matter; it’s an excuse for something else, the smearing around of pigment.”

So is pond hockey – or surfing, or skating, or swimming.  It is an excuse to give our selves the space to play, to smear our selves around.  Eventual bruises become joy remembered later in the work week, points of pride in having done a most important thing: we preserved a space in our lives for recreation and have ourselves been re-created, refreshed, renewed.  We painted with the pigment of our bodies and breath, voices and vision, smiles and hearts.  We played hard and, toasting our efforts, we rested from them and allowed a deeper work to be done.

Another Sunday will come, and maybe another snowfall like a clean canvas too.  Whether by blade or by brush we scratch the surface of an experience, the vastness of which lies peaceful as a pond beneath.

all painting oil on panel by Jessica Stammen
top image 8″ x 11″ / bottom two images 5″ x 7″