Years ago, when I was a professor at the university, one of my favorite courses to teach was Soil and Water Conservation.
The upper division class was usually populated with idealistic juniors and seniors who had hopes of being employed by the USDA’s Soil Conservation Service. That was their dream job because, in addition to being a government job with great benefits, it would allow them a career that afforded them the opportunity, to a great extent, to be outdoors, as they helped farmers and landowners implement soil and water conservation techniques.
Every year, on the first day of class, I’d have a little fun at their expense when I would ask, “How many of you hope to land a job with the SCS after graduation?”
After watching almost every hand go up, I’d follow up by stating, “OK, then you need to know two essential facts to realize your goal.”
As I watched these eager young students grab their notebooks and pencils to start writing down my profound statement, I would recite, “Water runs downhill…and payday is Friday.”
At that point, a few students would laugh, a few would roll their eyes, and a few would get mad. I would then point out that through my several years of teaching that class, I had discovered that many students couldn’t detect the difference between up and down when they were standing in the middle of a 160 acre field. Thirty-some years later, I’m beginning to wonder if I know the difference.
About a month ago, I had gone to a special cow sale at one of the local auction facilities and had been walking through the pens of cattle; looking them over.
It was almost sale time and I decided I’d better get to the seating area while there were still seats to be had. It had been a long day and I was tired, so I decided to take the elevator instead of climbing the stairs (the state-of-the-art auction barn only has two levels). As a friend and I boarded the compartment and the doors began to close, a fellow rancher stuck his hand out to block the door from closing. “You boys going up?” he asked.
I answered, “Yep,” immediately, before realizing that, from the ground floor, up is the only option. I thought of those students from years ago.
As if that “senior moment” wasn’t enough I had the cowboys out a week later to help me with the springtime cattle-working. We had put in a long day and were ready to gather the last bunch of cows and calves, which required repositioning several portable corral panels.
Since the panels are 20 years old, many are bent and warped and require two people to hook them together. Danny was on the end with the latches, while my job was to either raise or lower my end to enable them to fit together. Once Danny had latched the bottom fitting on one of the panels and was attempting to connect the top, he yelled to me, “Lift.”
Like an idiot, I asked, “Up?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Danny replied in his typical cowboy drawl. “Have you ever tried to lift down?”
Overhearing my faux pas, the other three cowboys had to take a knee to laugh it off and all I could think about was how I had chided those college students, so many years ago, for not knowing the difference between up and down.


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