FALMOUTH, Maine — The past few weeks have been a great stretch of weather for wild ice skaters in southern Maine. Cold temperatures and scant snow have made for vast stretches of smooth, natural ice atop lakes, ponds and rivers.
Right now, Yarmouth’s frozen Royal River is providing more than 10 miles of uninterrupted runner cruising. Sebago Lake’s Jordan Bay looks like glass this week, to the delight of skaters from near and far.
Old Orchard Beach wildlife photographer and outdoor enthusiast Karl Ramsdell has been out every day, skating and making pictures of the unique, icy beauty he’s run across. Getting out in Maine’s cold weather, Ramsdell said, is the only way he gets through the winter months with his sanity intact.
On Wednesday, using an inflatable sail — and the north wind’s power — Ramsdell skated the length and breadth of Highland Lake, straddling Falmouth and Windham.
Just before the wind picked up, Ramsdell shared some of his recent photographs and told us why he doesn’t mind shooting and playing in the cold.
Q: When did you first get into photography?
A: About three years ago. I saw a snowy owl on a roof at Pine Point and I was so captivated by it that I went to the camera shop and asked them what they had that could get me a better shot of the owl than my phone. So, I got a camera and started taking pictures of wildlife.
Q: Buying a camera is one thing, but how did you get so good at getting pictures of animals and nature in just three years?
A: I took thousands of pictures a day when I first saw that snowy owl — and it was around for about a week. I learned what I like. I try to capture their soul, if you will. It’s like they’re trying to tell me something. When I photograph wildlife, to me, it almost makes them immortal. They live forever in my mind and on my hard drive.
Q: You must have been an outdoorsy person before you got your camera.
A: Yes. My whole life. I surf, I skate, I paddleboard a lot. I mountain bike. I’m getting into kiteboarding. I do a lot of hiking in the mountains.
Q: Is photography just another way to enjoy the outdoors?
A: Yes. It gets me out and allows me a lot of solitude. I like being out in nature, sitting and waiting, seeing what comes by.
Q: Winter doesn’t deter you at all?
A: Not at all. I’m outside, all day, every single day in the winter — even if it rains, I go out shooting. The key to enjoying winter in Maine, and not losing your mind, is finding outdoor activities to enjoy. That’s what I’ve done.
Q: Aside from your wildlife pictures, you’ve found beauty in this winter’s ice, itself.
A: It’s like snowflakes. Every lake is different. Everywhere you go, you’re going to find different ice — cool bubbles, all kinds of geometric shapes. I lay on the ice and listen.
Q: I’ve camped on the ice and heard those sounds right under my ear.
A: I love that sound. It’s calming to me. That’s the sound of the ice making new ice.
Q: You’ve been taking advantage of this particular stretch of good skating and picture weather?
A: Yeah. I drive all over because the ice is so different everywhere. Last weekend I was in Acadia. Today it’s Highland Lake. Tomorrow, it’s probably going to be Sebago Lake.
Q: Will this all be over once we get this blizzard on Saturday?
A: I think so. I’m glad we got this time, though. I skated every day the ice was good.
Q: So what will be your next winter activity?
A: Hiking in the mountains. I like to hike up and ride sleds down again. I’ll be hanging up the skates for a while.
To see more of Karl Ramsdell’s photography, visit his Instagram page.