Tag Archives: Arthur Kampmann

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The True Beginning

Storytelling is our way of bringing meaning to what might otherwise appear to be random events in everyday existence. Stories answer questions. John Eldredge, who I referenced in the Contours of Story, says the great philosophical question is really quite simple: “How did all of this get here?” or to put it in the words of Tolkien’s heroic hobbit: “I wonder what sort of tale we’ve fallen into?”

Signposts on Mt Cardigan, NH 2017

Signposts on Mt Cardigan, NH 2017

Have you ever wondered what kind of tale you’ve fallen into? Many of us do not think of ourselves as being on a quest to save the world from the dark and evil forces concentrated in the shadow of Mordor. But could we be wrong? It could be that we are more like the characters in Lord of the Rings than we might image. And it could be that our world resembles Middle Earth more than we might think.

And if we are living within the framework of the battle between forces of good and evil, does that change the way we look at the purpose and meaning of our own lives?

When my son Arthur and I departed the Lodge at Cardigan, we thought we were embarking on an easy journey that would take us to an open mountaintop with inspiring views and then, after that, on to a nearby hikers’ cabin to spend a safe and warm winter night.

The Cardigan summit, though, turned into a battleground. We had walked into a turbulent and unpredictable world putting our safety on the line. We had to draw on instinct and experience to find our way down to the cabin. Without saying a word, we both understood the dangers of the world we crossed through and were grateful to arrive at the place that would provide warmth and rest.

I have thought about this experience long and hard since it happened. I could have dismissed it as just another winter mountain walk, but the contrast of the dangers of the storm and the safety of the cabin were so stark they demanded further reflection.

hiking dangers

Many years ago, in another time of great personal challenge, I discovered the Bible. Even though I was in my middle years, my understanding of the world was not built on a strong biblical foundation. I had been brought up in a Christian culture, but that world was not a culture of the cross; instead, the church had been transmuted into a diluted remnant of an earlier, more vibrant expression of the faith. The institution of the church was accepted as long as it did not impose itself too severely on the wishes of the people and their communities. This was the world I knew as a boy and young man; you might call it the world of “Cabin Christians” where the safe and pleasant environment of the cabin is substituted for the difficulties of being a Christian in a more turbulent and unpredictable world.

This is what Jesus prayed for those who will follow him after his crucifixion and resurrection: “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”(John 17:14-18)

And in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”(Matthew 5:11-12)

Shelter on Mt Cardigan, NH 2017

Shelter on Mt Cardigan, NH 2017

On the summit I longed for the safety of the cabin, but I also knew that we would need to depart the cabin soon enough to go back to the world Jesus describes. Jesus was warning his disciples that they would encounter resistance in this world, but he also promised that he would be with them “always to the end of the age.”(Matthew 28:20)

The truth is this: If we accept the great commission of Jesus Christ to go out into the world to make disciples of all nations, we will experience dangers and discomfort. It may even seem like a hopeless battle at times, but do we have a choice? If we accept the call, then we must accept the conditions that might come with the call. Sam and Frodo did not choose the journey to Mordor for themselves; they knew their whole world was at risk. The seemingly safe Shire was not really safe at all. They did not know it, but these two improbable heroes were part of a much bigger story that transformed a mere journey into an epic mission. The odds at times may seem insurmountable, but the mission commissioned by Jesus Christ is all about overcoming the impossible.

The Contours of Story header-revised

The Contours of Story

 “I wonder what sort of tale we’ve fallen into.”

—Sam as he approaches Mordor with Frodo in Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring


Since writing my last blog about the unanticipated dangers my son and I encountered on the summit of Cardigan Mountain, I have thought often since then about what happened and why I recall it so vividly.

When we passed the opened shelter at the base of Firescrew Mountain, we made our decision to forge on. We had no idea what that meant. We did know that daylight would soon fade to darkness and we knew we might be exposed to the full brunt of the winter wind as it gusted over the summits of the two mountains.

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Arthur Kampmann, Cardigan Mountain 2017

The snow, the dark and the wind together conspired to confuse us with false signals as to the way forward, making us turn back time and again until we could hunt down a better way. But with all the forces of nature seemingly against us, we pushed on determined to find the cabin somewhere below the summit. It helped having one another as we made our way.

When Arthur finally called out that he had found the fire tower, there was no elation because the summit offered only danger. We could hardly hear one another over the roar of the wind, but we did not pause. We began a search for the trail that would take us to safety.

The cabin itself was dark and cold inside, but it was a refuge in the night and as soon as Arthur built a fire, the room began to warm. Now that we were secure, it was sobering to recall the conditions on the exposed summit of Cardigan. While we were searching for a way down, we had no time for reflection, only action. But now in the warmth of the cabin, I realized Arthur and I had just lived through the drama of a survival story.

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John Eldridge wrote a short book on the centrality of story to the process of understanding the meaning of the life we live. Madeleine L’Engle has written, “All of life is a story.” Eldridge elaborates: “It goes far deeper than entertainment. Stories nourish us. They provide a kind of food that the soul craves. ‘Stories are equipment for living,’ says Hollywood screenwriting teacher Robert McKee. He believes that we go to the movies because we hope to find in someone else’s story something that will help us understand our own. We go (to movies) ‘to live in a fictional reality that illuminates our daily reality.’ Stories shed light on our lives.”

Eric Kampmann hiking 2017

Myself, Cardigan Mountain 2017

Philip Yancey tells us that behind the human condition is an epic story that has fragmented into countless mysteries. He describes what he means by giving us GK Chesterton’s picture of the human story as “a sort of cosmic shipwreck.” Chesterton believes “a person’s search for meaning resembles a sailor who awakens from a deep sleep and discovers treasure strewn about, relics from a civilization he can barely remember. One by one he picks up the relics-gold coins, a compass, fine clothing-and tries to discern their meaning. Fallen humanity is in such a state. Good things on earth-the natural world, beauty, love joy-still bear traces of their original purposes, but lost of memory mars the image of God in us.”

To Chesterton and to me the ultimate version of this story is contained in the pages of the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible. The question for each one of us is to try to discern where we believe we fit into that larger biblical narrative as we discover patterns and context to the life we live here and now.

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What Are The Odds?

“Josh?”  I was resting, attending to my own aching body. We had reached the final leg of the 4.5 mile ascent of the right edge of Exit Glacier. My son Arthur and I had climbed part of the way last year, but this time around, he decided that we should climb to the viewpoint that looks out over the vast Harding Icefield, now part of the Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska.

Exit Glacier is one of 40 Glaciers connected to the Icefield and is easily accessible to the town of Seward on Resurrection Bay.

The climb to the top had taken about 3.5 hours. We were lucky because this year August has been particularly wet, but not on this day. We could see for endless miles and yet we were looking at only a small fraction of an icefield that nearly equaled the area of the state of Rhode Island.

“Josh?” Arthur had gotten up and had begun walking over to some people resting nearby. I assumed Arthur had run into one of his kayak guide friends and so continued to settle in.  Then, Arthur called out to me “Eric, It’s Josh.” I still didn’t register what he was saying or who this Josh might be. Then I saw who it was he was talking to.

Josh Schneider had worked for my company from 2009 through the first half of 2012. He had overseen the launch of the company’s new website, a very complex and crucial job. Then he departed to get a law degree and after graduating, he moved to Anchorage to serve as clerk for a Federal judge.

Before I set off for Alaska, I had contacted Josh but we had never followed up. Then this. Often when hiking, you can be 5 or 10 minutes ahead of or behind someone and never know they are there. It turned out that Josh and his wife Haley had left the visitor’s center about an hour before Arthur and myself. They had taken a few long breaks on the way up and so they reached the top shortly before we did.

So what are the odds? I had been in Alaska for one full day before we decided to climb up the side of Exit Glacier. Josh knew I was coming back to Alaska, but did not know when. He lived in Anchorage, a 2.5 hour drive from this place. I had wanted to meet up with him, but had not followed up after the first phone call.

Maybe it was the sheer size of Alaska that made this meeting seem so improbable. Maybe it was the distance I had travelled to get from New York to Seward. Maybe it was the vastness of the icefield. But I kept wondering what are the odds? I am still wondering about that. What are the odds? Maybe Alaska is the perfect place for questions like that. What indeed are the odds?

Eric Kampmann in Alaska, 2016

Eric Kampmann in Alaska, 2016

Recalling an Encounter on Mt. Moosilauke’s Gorge Brook Trail

view from summit of mt moosilauke-4-feature

It was the summer of 1992 and my three sons and I were attending a boys’ camp reunion at Camp Pemigewassett in New Hampshire. Outdoor activities filled each day. On the first day, we canoed down the Connecticut River north of Hanover. On the second full day, we had several options and I chose a hike up nearby Mt. Moosilauke. I had fond memories of family trips up Moosilauke as a child; my only worry was my youngest son Arthur being able to make it to the top and back. He had hiked before, but nothing as strenuous as this New Hampshire four-thousand footer. Its summit rose above the tree line into an exposed jumble of rock. Though he had a birthday coming up, Arthur was still just four years old. I could easily imagine hearing the plaintive cry that often came from the back seat of our car: “Dad, are we there yet?”

Moosilauke is the first high mountain on the Appalachian Trail north of Virginia. Hikers coming from the south look for it as a landmark as they push into the challenges of the White Mountains. The Gorge Brook Trail departs from the Ravine Lodge at the base of the mountain and is one of the easier ways to ascend, but it’s 7.4 miles round trip. For inexperienced hikers, that’s a full day venture.

Eric Kampmann with his three sons, Alex, Peter, and ArthurAs soon as we began, the two older boys, Alex and Peter, took off and quickly disappeared into the woods. We wouldn’t see them again for hours. That left me with Arthur and the fear that the inevitable cry, “Dad, carry me!” would soon pierce my ears. What would I do then?

But the cry never came. Instead, Arthur talked his way up the trail as if the climb was the most normal thing in the world. Motivated by a desire not to end up lugging him up three arduous miles, I joined in what became a lively continuous conversation. The big topic was his upcoming birthday. He was excited about the possibility of getting some Transformer Action toys, and he kept speculating about which one would be the best to get. Up and up we chattered until suddenly we were beyond the trees and near the open summit, the 3.7 miles behind us. Alex and Peter were waiting to greet us at the top.

We descended the mountain as a family, but Arthur’s non-stop birthday talk did not cease. In fact, about half way down, we met an older gentleman who stopped to say hello. Serendipitous encounters with strangers frequently happen on the Appalachian Trail and over the years I’ve come to expect, savor and cherish them. Arthur immediately brought our new friend into the birthday conversation and the kindly gentleman seemed to listen intently. It was a moment to remember. Even then, I recall thinking: maybe someday, in the distant future, Arthur would be ascending this same Gorge Brook Trail where he would come upon a family with a four year old. And I could imagine Arthur leaning over to hear the child talking and talking about his upcoming birthday and the wonderful gifts he might receive. My gift that day was the image of that moment on the mountain where generations intersected and a young boy shared his happy visions with someone just passing by.

Arthur and his friend collage