"The man who knew too much..."

Oh, a very "Hitchcock-like" title, wouldn't you say?

Actually, there's a whole lot less intrigue in it and more philosophy...

You know that feeling when you're looking at setting up a new aquarium? The stuff that goes through your head that keeps you up at night?

So, I'm at this new phase now. I have this empty tank, all of the equipment I'll be using, and a whole lot of ideas bouncing in my head.

Some are new thoughts on how I want to approach familiar problems, like like, "If I go with these pieces of wood, which will I have to position them to take advanatage of the tank's footprint, water flow, and lighting?" Others are far more esoteric, like thinking through positioning of pump returns within the display, or thinking through maintenance strategies.

Still others are...well- weird.

Case in point. I was on a couple of airplanes the other day, flying to a talk. Like any good fish geek, I spent some time pouring over fish-geek forums/blogs, freshwater and reef- and was drawn to some "build threads" on a few forums, you know- to kind of get a "read" as to how other aquarists are approaching certain things. Funny, actually, because one of the things I hold dear in my aquarium practice is that I won't allow any of my decisions to be influenced by others...Kind of a ridiculous position, actually- because we can't help but be influenced by the work of others in this hobby, right? 

There's nothing wrong with that.

So anyways, as I pursued a few threads, I'd see the usual iterations of wood, rock, the fancy equipment shots, the ridiculously over-blue lights-on shots on reef tanks (I mean, it's  2017- we've had LED's for like a decade, and we're still into making our tanks look like Studio 54? What gives. Ever heard of "full spectrum" or "daylight?"). And since I was contemplating employing high light in this new setup, I was fascinated by others' experiences in high light setups. Apart from stuff I'd laugh and comiserate about, I saw IT. You know. The big "hurdle." The rights of passage in any aquarium.


Yikes, I forgot about that. Yeah. Seems like I've had tanks just kind of "set up" for so long I've kind of forgotten about it a bit. That part when all of your good work looks like...well, you get it- as it's covered with that familiar patina of algae while the tank goes through its nutrient cycling phase. The part where every hobbyist, experienced or otherwise, has those lingering doubts; asks questions- goes through the mental gymnastics to try to cope: "Do I have enough flow?" Was my source water quality any good? Is it my light? When does this go away? It does go away. I know it's just a phase. Right? Yeah, it goes away? When? It WILL go away. Right?"

The waiting. The not-being-able-to-see-a-fully-stocked-tank thing...Patience-testing stuff.

I mean, it's one of those rights of passage that we all go through when we set up aquariums  right? The early doubts. The questioning of ourselves. The reviewing of fundamental procedure and practice. The need to reach out to the community to gain reassurance. It's normal. It's often inevitable.

The point of this piece is not about algae or nitrites, or biofilms on botanicals, per se. It's about the mind set that we bring to the table when we experience such things. The "algae bloom" or the "biofilm" phases brings out familiar feelings...

But they are phases. I know this..and you do, too.

Yet it bothers many of us, huh?

We reach back into our minds- our experiences- every time our canister filter releases micro bubbles into our tank, or whenever our pumps make that funny noise...Whenever the temperature seems to be harder to dial in than we expect. Whatever it is that's going on in our tanks. We KNOW what stuff should be like, we know that we set ourselves up for success...yet we look, and ponder- and we worry. But we DO know better. We know that all of this wonderful thing are just a phase. Our own experience- and the experience of our "tribe"- tell us this. 
Yet it's part of the game. The worry. The reflection. The doubts. The...learning- which comes about as a result of our doing something that, in reality, is among the most enjoyable of pursuits in the hobby- starting a new tank.

We know what to expect. 

And perhaps- just maybe- we know too much.

We understand all of this stuff. We experienced it many times over the years, and have watched- and even reassured- others that "all of this is normal" and to "just be patient and it will pass..."

You know- aquarium stuff.

Outright beginners actually have it much easier in this regard, I think. I mean, when just having a glass or acrylic box of water in your home is a novelty- a cause for rejoicing- you tend to live in a bubble of gentle "ignorance" (eeehw- that's kind of harsh)- okay, let's call it "blissful lack of awareness" that some of this stuff sucks...

And that's a beautiful thing- because a beginner is taken by the sheer wonder- and joy of it all. They don't stress out about stuff like micro bubbles and hair algae on their hardscape. They're not worried about that annoying stuff like WE are, because they don't KNOW that it can linger a long, long time if you don't manage the tank correctly at this phase. They're not handcuffed by their past experiences and the knowledge of having set up dozens of tanks over the years. Rather, they're just stoked as all get out by the thought of Zebra Danios, Pineapple Platies, blue gravel, and Anacharis taking up residence in the new little utopian microhabitat they just set up in their New York City apartment. Even with algae. Even with the cycling. All that stuff.

Perhaps the beginner ""knows something we don't.

I think I- we- know too much. 

And I don't mean that from an arrogant perspective, mind you.

I think I, like so many aquarists at my level of hobby experience, tend to overthink every aspect of the aquarium hobby, particularly the new tank startup phase, rather than just letting ourselves enjoy the moment- the wonder, and the awe that comes from doing something special, beautiful, and, let's face it- incredibly cool! Something that nine- tenths of the world will never get to experience or even comprehend.

I think it's entirely possible to release ourselves from the "burden" of our own experience, and to allow ourselves to enjoy every aspect of this great hobby, free from preconception or prejudices. To just make decisions based on what our research- gut, or yeah- I suppose experience- tells us is the right thing to do, then letting stuff happen. In other words, taking control of the influence our own experience provides, rather than allowing it to taint our whole journey with doubt, dogma, second-guessing, and over-analysis of every single aspect.

I'm looking forward to the next phases of my journey with the new setup. Looking forward to solving problems, creating solutions, trying new things, experiencing the familiar ones- and just taking each step as it comes. Not over-thinking, and not being completely ignorant, either.

Because I certainly don't want to carry the burden of the man who knew too much.

Stay excited. Stay engaged. Stay tuned!

And Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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