****The following is a guest post from wildlife biologist, educator and musician Tate Mason. Tate works as the education director of the interpretive center at the World Center for Birds of Prey here in Boise, Idaho, and is also the banjo player for local bluegrass band Idyltime. Tate and his wife Beth scored our very first Eyes on Conservation film about bird migration research at the Intermountain Bird Observatory, and have played sets at several of our Boise screening events over the past few years. Idyltime is currently running a kickstarter campaign in support of their next album – so if you love bluegrass music and wildlife, be sure to secure your copy of the new album today!****
It was once remarked to me that everyone who studies birds plays the banjo. That couldn’t be true, so the commenter expanded the category to include those who want to play the banjo. I suggested we remove the academics from the picture; those PhDs that spent their time in pursuit of academic achievement rather than artistic mediocrity. Perhaps field technicians were the target of the comment, those that can only survive camped out for months at a time, point count surveyors, nest searchers and the like. With these people, I can relate.
I graduated college with a basic knowledge of both biology and banjo chord structure but I didn’t really understand either. Although I often wished I had a mastery of both, I quickly realized that joy lay in the pursuit of mastery and not necessarily in its attainment. In the following years I opened my mind to the world. I sat and watched for hours, for days, for entire field seasons, trying to catch a glimpse of true understanding. And in the evenings I picked. Through 10 years of itinerant field work I brought my banjo and guitar, and it was this particular pursuit that led to my most cherished moments. Music opened the door to countless friendships and eventually led to my wife and my child.
On days away from counting birds or fish I would delve into music. To me, my fingers on the strings felt real. The television never felt real. Card games or board games were just that, bored. Ahh, but pickin the banjo? Not bored. It makes me smile to recall my spot in the middle of an orange grove in San Diego County. My job there was to map Least Bell’s Vireo territories, but in my free time I would just pick. I played so much music in that orange grove that I got tendonitis and had to wear a wrist brace. That was my first pickin’ injury.
As I mentioned, I spent 10 years working with a variety of wildlife conservation projects. As the years wore on, I got to thinking about a home base, a place to store the instruments I’d spent my summer wages on. I also got to thinking about the endless goodbyes involved with travel. Saying goodbye to everyone I’d spent my time with, and to a few I’ve said goodbye forever. As these thoughts were taking root in my mind, my wife waltzed into the picture. We shared a vision, and have worked tirelessly to make that vision a reality.
Part of the vision is music. We don’t play because we want to be famous or think we are the best at what we do. We really just love to pick. We love the pursuit of perfection, though we probably wouldn’t know what to do with it if we found it. We’ve been in Boise for over 4 years now and we’ve found great friends to join in the pursuit. Our band, Idyltime, is now together through the seasons, through the years, and we’ve had the chance to work up a great repertoire of music. We are headed into the studio this December to lay down some of those tracks. Keep your eye out for our new album, Rimrock Country, coming this spring. Thankfully, the pursuit continues.
****Check out the video below to see clips from Idyltime’s performance at this past summer’s Hermit Music Fest, and join their kickstarter campaign to secure a copy of their new album!****
Tags: bluegrass biology, bluegrass pickin, bluegrass wildlife, eyes on conservation, Idyltime, Idyltime boise, music inspired by birds, music inspired by wildlife, Tate Mason, wildlife inspired music