Fort Collins Conservation District

Ron Neher

Learning the ropes, - an important course in life

By: Ron Neher, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Retired

“Learning the ropes,” the saying, comes from an old nautical term where new sailors needed to learn how to tie knots in working on sailing vessels as well as learning which rope went with which sail and how to handle them.” We hear this term today in all kinds of occupations. It is often referenced in regard to a newer or younger employee learning some pointers as well as a short-cut in a new line of work from an older or more experience professional.

Prior to my retirement with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, I noticed, on occasion, fathers and sons coming into the USDA Service Center for one reason or another. The father usually does the talking and the son is there listening. In effect, he is learning “the ropes” of a certain aspect of their farming or ranching operation.

When I was a kid college was seen as an optional form of education. Obviously there were some occupations where post high school education was necessary; but, many went straight to a job site of their choice and began work and did quite well.

Today things have changed. It seems like all high school students go off to college. I am sure not all, and even some do not finish college, but the percentage of college students is far greater today than when I was of that age. However, you don’t and never do learn it all in college.

College is good, - I even have a few degrees of my own. But as I heard an old well-educated gentleman say one time, - and he openly admitted to it, - “I have a lot of degrees but very little temperature.”

One thing new employees need (in any field of vocation) is mentoring in one form or another. Many feel after graduation that as long as they have a good working knowledge of the computer, - and associated electronics, - then they are set. Look out world, come and get me!

Learning from the experienced is so critical. Whether it is in the field of agriculture or some other profession, you will never guess what additional knowledge, trick, short-cut, or philosophy you will learn from that older person many look at as a person who is progressing.

I remember learning much from a retired employee with the Soil Conservation Service in Eads, Colorado. Wayne Glover taught me more of how to do my job, how farmers and ranchers think in regard to government programs, and why we do what we do than anyone I have yet worked with in this agency. He has long since passed on but some of the information I have written in previous news articles included information I gained from working with him.

Much of what I am today came from a man who only had a ninth grade education, came to California from Oklahoma in a covered wagon in 1907, and basically started working in 1920 after his mother died to help provide for his younger brothers and sisters. He knew nothing but hard work. He was my Dad. Don’t think you have to hang around the “educated” to learn. Learning and self-advancement can come from anyone, - from the uneducated to the PhD as well as from all sorts of life experiences. You never know where you might learn something, - just pay attention.