I think that we- as a hobby, are not doing a good enough job celebrating the process of creating aquariums, and enjoying them at every stage.
I think we celebrate the “finished product” and fail to celebrate the joy, the heartache, the time- and the patience- the journey-which go into an aquarium. I think we create an "urgency" to get to some destination. And further, I don't think we as a hobby do enough to recognize the telltale signs of hobbyists going too fast..
If you spend time on forums, you’ll see evidence of this all over the place.
You see this in aquarium “build threads” (which are pretty cool, I admit), but many of them seem to exude an underlying feeling of “impatience”- a sense that there is a “destination” to get to- and that the person posting wants to get there really quickly! I see these in reef keeping forums constantly, and they follow a very predictable path. They start out innocently and exciting enough- the tank concept is highlighted, the acquisition of (usually expensive) equipment is documented, and the build begins. The pace quickens. The urgency to “get the livestock in the tank asap” is palpable. Soon, pretty large chunks of change are dropped on some of the most trendy, expensive coral frags- or worse yet- colonies- available.
Everyone “oohs and ahhs” over the additions. Those who understand the processes involved- and really think about it- begin to realize that this is going too fast…that the process is being rushed…that shortcuts and “hacks” are cherished more than the natural processes required for success. Sure enough, within a month or so, frantic social media and forum posts are written by the builder, asking for help to figure out what his/her expensive corals are “struggling”, despite the amount spent on high-tech equipment and said corals from reputable vendors.
When suggestions are offered by members of the community, usually they’re about correcting some aspect of the nitrogen cycle or other critical biological function that was bypassed or downplayed by the aquarist. Usually, the “fixes” involve “doubling back” and spending more time to “re-boot” and do things more slowly. To let the system sort of evolve (oh- THAT word!) The “yeah, I know, but..” type of responses- the ones that deflect responsibility- start piling up from the hobbyist. Often, the tank owner will apply some misplaced blame to the equipment manufacturer, the livestock vendor, the LFS employee…almost anyone but himself/herself. And soon after, the next post is in the forum’s “For Sale” section, selling off components of a once-ambitious aquarium. Another hobbyist lost to lack of patience.
We can speed up some processes- adding bacterial additives to our new aquariums to “jump start” the nitrogen cycle. We can utilize nutritive soils and additives to help give plants the nutrition they need from day one. We can densely plant. All of these things and more are ways we have developed to speed up the natural processes which occur in our aquariums over time. They are band aids, props- quick starts…”hacks”, if you will. But they are not the key to establishing a successful long-term-viable aquarium. Ultimately, nature, the ultimate "editor"- has to “approve” and work with any of the “boosts” we offer. Nature dictates the pace.
It’s a hobby "cultural" problem, IMHO.
It doesn’t apply to everyone- it’s not always a devastating ending. However, it happens often enough to affect the hobby as a whole, especially when someone drops out because they went in with unrealistic expectations brought about by the observations they make every time they open up their iPad. We can correct this, relatively easily, I think.
The problem is, we as a hobby love to highlight the finished product. We document and celebrate the beauty of the IAPLC champion’s ‘scape. But we minimally document the process that it took to get there. The reality is that the journey to the so-called “finished product” is really every bit as interesting as the finished product itself! It’s where the magic lies. The process. The journey. The time. The evolution. The patience.
Sure, these aspects don’t make for the best “optics”, as they say in politics. You can’t show an empty, cloudy aquarium on Instagram or Facebook and get 400 “likes” on the pic. Sadly, acceptance from others of how cool our tanks are is a big deal for many, so sharing an “under construction” tank is not as exciting for a lot of people, because we as a hobby celebrate that “finished product” (whatever it is) more than the process of getting there.
We simply need to celebrate patience, the journey, and the “evolution” of our aquariums more. After a lifetime in the hobby it’s pretty easy for a guy like me to see when things are going in a direction that may not give the happy outcome my fellow hobbyists want. I see this just as much in the freshwater world as I do in the reef world. Lets savor the journey more!
I’ve laws found it somewhat odd to see those amazing high-concept planted tanks broken down i their prime by the owner, to start a new one. I guess it’s part of the culture of that niche…a sort of self-imposed “termination” when something new is desired. The “process” is about hitting certain benchmarks and moving on, I suppose. (and if you only have one tank and 500 ideas, and the goal is to enter it into a new contest, it makes sense) And we have to respect that. But we also have a duty to explain this to newcomers. We have to let people know that, even in one of those seemingly “temporary” displays, patience and the passage of time are required.
Part of the reason why we celebrate the “evolution” of blackwater, botanical-style aquariums here at Tannin Aquatics is because the very act of working with one of these tanks IS an evolution. A process. A celebration of sensory delights. An aquarium has a “cadence” of its own, which we can set up- but we must let nature dictate the timing and sequencing. It starts with an empty tank. Then, the lush fragrance exuded by crisp botanicals during preparation. The excitement of the initial “placement of the botanicals within the tank. The gradual “tinting” of the aquarium water. The softening of the botanicals. The gradual development of biofilms and algae “patinas”. Ultimately, the decomposition. All part of a process which can’t be “hacked” or rushed. Mother Nature is in control.
And, yes- we see impatience here, too. We need to stress the process as much as the “finished product” (whatever that might be in this instance). We constantly talk about this.
We see that people come in with some expectations based on the tanks they see. Human nature. Yet, we stress the aesthetics of the tank during the “evolution” as part of the function, too. We celebrate biofilms, brown water, and decomposition. It’s the very essence of Amano’s interpretation of Wabi-Sabi- the celebration of the transient nature of existence. And I get it. Not everyone appreciates the zen-like mindset required to truly enjoy a blackwater, botanical-style aquarium. Not everyone finds the decomposing pods and tinted water alluring. The fact that it closely replicates the natural Amazonian igarape or an Asian blackwater stream is of little consequence for the hobbyist who dislikes decomposing leaves and such, and wants a more “artistic” look.
And, the when the reality sets in that, in order to keep the tank looking exactly like it did when it was new, with crisp leaves and sparkling botanicals, it requires a constant amount of care and replacement of materials, the appeal could be lost to some. The “evolution” aspect of this type of tank, and the aesthetic and mind set hat goes with it, are not for everyone.
And that’s okay.
We celebrate the process. The evolution. Savor the time it takes to see a tank mature in this fashion. We love new tanks, just starting the journey, because we know how they progress if they are left to do what nature wants them to do. We understand as a community that it takes time. It takes patience. And that the evolution is the part of the experience that we can savor most of all…because it’s continuous.
As a hobby in general, we need to document and celebrate the process. We need to have faith in nature, and relish the constant change, slow and indifferent to our needs though it may be. We need to emphasis to new and old aquarists alike that, in this 24/7/365 intent-enabled world we’re in- that patience, time, and evolution are all part of the enjoyment of the aquarium hobby. The smell of a brand new tank. The delight at the first new growth of a plant. The addition of the first fishes. All are experiences on a road -a journey- which will forever continue. As long as we allow the processes which enable it to do so.
Be kind to yourself. Document. Share. Savor.
Stay patient. Stay generous. Stay honest. Stay curious.
And Stay Wet.