Trouble likes visiting Fredericton, especially the walking trail that is easily accessible from her temporary lodgings. On a good bright day like today, after a foot of fresh snow, there’s nothing better than a roll in the snow and a run along the trail.
It’s not like the open expanses of Point Pleasant Park. The trail used to be a railway, so it stretches straight and level ahead and behind, carved through the snow by a sharp blade tracing a familiar path from one marker to the next.
The wind has carved different patterns in the snow drifts, but there is nothing fanciful about the walking trail. It marches straight on toward the river, its only curve the gradual sweep which brings it to precisely the right angle to approach the bridge.
As she follows Trouble across the river, Human thinks about engineering: its necessary precision and its highly recognizable forms. Human is no engineer, but she liked science as a student, though she struggled with lab reports. They ought to have been easy: a template to fill in – purpose, equipment, method, results, conclusions – but templates aren’t self-evident. Oh, they may be second-nature to someone familiar with them, but the student struggling to differentiate between a result and a conclusion needs more than red-inked corrections. She needs to know why it’s structured that way, what it’s for – so that the angles and the arches of the bridge’s girders make sense, and not just patterns against the sky.
Or to try another metaphor – an edible one, and thus more to Trouble’s liking – we use templates like empty shells that need to be stuffed – an empty crab shell to be stuffed with crab meat, a scallop shell to be heaped with coquilles Saint Jacques. But an empty shell is just the outward and visible sign, so to speak, of what was once a living thing. Unless we understand how that shell came to be – how its form followed the organism’s function before stiffening into a template – that shell is a dead unmeaning thing, despite its stuffing.
When we do understand, the conventions of scientific writing are as purposeful as the walking trail: they deliver the reader – with plenty of recognizable indicators along the way – to a particular point: the next signpost, or the next crossing where a change of direction is possible, or the place where the scientific imagination leaps on girders of logic and evidence across empty air to a new shore.
Trouble likes the bridge. For all its undeviating predictability – or because of it – the bridge delivers her to new perspectives. It’s a place where birds fly beneath her feet.