It’s a real leap of faith for us fish geeks to try something new, isn’t it?
I mean, on the whole, as a hobby-we’ve done things pretty successfully, with some gradual iterations along the way- for the better part of 100+ or so years…
Sure, there have been changes in basic technology- like frozen foods, freeze-dried foods, under gravel filters, internal water pumps, wet-dry filters…canister filters. Thanks to intense efforts by hobbyists, breeding of fishes once considered near impossible, like Discus, is commonplace.
Aquascaping has evolved from a pleasant side diversion to a full-blown professional/competitive "circuit!" And what about the planted aquarium? It's virtually a hobby in and of itself! "Dirted" tanks, estimative index, tissue culture...We’ve gone through different types of stuff like aquarium substrates for planted tanks…and the application of liquid fertilizers and CO2- stuff that used to seem so exotic and unfamiliar is now just "the way it’s done", right?
It’s not always easy getting fish people to adapt new methods, equipment, or ideas…It’s almost like we have to see the "relevance" to what we do before we consider it…There has to be some element of familiarity, it seems.
The odd, but well-treaded analogy of the "California Roll" resonates well here. Huh? "What are you talking about, Fellman?" Stay with me, here…
Remember, not too many years ago, the whole concept of sushi was- well- alien to many Americans of non-Japanese ancestry. Back in the late 1970’s, or so the story goes, owners of Japanese restaurants were just nots sure how to get Americans into sushi..Eventually, someone made a roll, consisting of ingredients that were almost entirely recognizable to the American/European palette: Rice, cucumber, and crab. The little bit of nori that wrapped the whole thing up was a stretch- but the majority of the roll was produced with entirely familiar ingredients. It caught on- big time- and became the “gateway drug” for the sushi addiction here in the U.S. and elsewhere in the West. Now, it’s pretty much the most “basic” of the sushi rolls- but I’ll bet that in 1977, most Westerners would freak about it if they were offered it at a restaurant!
And that’s how it is with our fish stuff, right?
We accepted the idea of the “Nature Aquarium” in The West, with it’s rigid adherence to aquascaping layout “rules” and such, it was sort of a "sea change"…but it also was an evolution or change from what we had in the past…It incorporated familiar components (plants, rocks, wood), but assembled them in a different way.
It was like that with the first freeze-dried foods…live stuff that was preserved in a different manner than previously done…and it made our lives better and easier, in terms of our fish keeping…And so it goes with electronic testers, LED lights, etc., etc. Familiar ideas/concepts expressed in new ways…
That’s what pushes the hobby forward. In our case, the idea of using “botanicals” in our aquariums is not groundbreaking…it’s just a bit different than what we’ve been doing in the past…a tiny, tiny incremental change in our practices. I think the big step forward has been the mental "stretch" that botanical/blackwater enthusiasts have made to understand just what the role of botanicals is in the whole "recipe" of an aquarium. We got out of our own headspace to really "get" it.
There is a bit of hesitancy at first with some hobbyists, because, although we're talking about an "aquarium", we're asking them to make a bit of a leap of faith and understand and accept that stuff like brown water, biofilms, and even a bit of algae are perfectly natural, beautiful parts of the "whole."
I think we're starting to see a new emergence of a more "wholistic" approach to aquarium keeping...a realization that we've done amazing things so far, keeping fishes and plants in a glass or acrylic box with applied technique and superior husbandry...but that there is room to experiment and push the boundaries even further, by understanding and applying our knowledge of what happens in the real natural environment.
It's the "garden" versus "flower in a vase" argument you've heard before: We can either mimic a garden, taking into account the many different needs of the plants we keep in a controlled, yet natural setting, to encourage long-term growth and reproduction, or we can keep a cut flower in a vase, supplying the most "deconstructed" form of care to simply enjoy it for a while.
There is no "right" or "wrong." It's a matter of preference, really.
Taking the familiar and doing different things with it to achieve a goal.
Every new fish that’s bred, each new strain, every new idea that’s executed and perfected. They all make things so familiar to us that much better…
And, as students of the "New Botanical"-style approach to aquarium keeping, you're doing just that, every day. And you're laying down the groundwork for the next great phase of aquatic husbandry innovation and breakthrough.
It's a pretty exciting time...and YOU are creating it! You did it.
Ponder that today.
Stay bold. Stay inspired. Stay fearless.
And Stay Wet.