This hobby that we love so much is really supposed to be...relaxing, right?
Yet, for some of us, what may qualify as relaxing is shockingly stressful for others!
Do you know one of those fish people who just "freaks out" every time you find a snail in your planted tank, or see a little spot of algae, or- perhaps-maybe-just that the tank doesn't look "right" this morning (even though it looks the same way it did yesterday morning...)?
Or, are YOU that person?
I think I used to be.
I was one of those fish geeks who, upon seeing some little "problem" in one of my tanks- say, a piece of wood slightly askew, or an aggregation of sand blown into one area by a powerhead-would freak the f--- out and have a towel down on the floor and sleeves up, and be "in contact" with the water in like under a minute to "correct" the issue!
Like, "Drop everything!!!!"
Yeah, my fishy friends thought I was a bit "overly-reactive" when it came to my tanks.
And I admit, I probably was.
And I think the origins of this aquarium behavioral "issue" could be traced back to the days when I had my aquarium(s) in my bedroom as a kid...One of the "conditions" my mom placed on me was that everything and to look "presentable" at all times...And of course, I quickly learned that "presentable" to a mom is far different than "presentable" is to a 14-year-old fish geek with 7 tanks in his bedroom, and that compliance was...well, really freaking important if I were to ever get that 8th tank in there!
Survival skills. That's what it was about. It's sort of guided my thinking in the hobby for a long time.
So I learned to deal with "small problems" quickly and efficiently. Always did- even as a "grown up."
However, there was this...thing...that would happen when I "dealt" with stuff in my tanks. You know- those "small problems" that would crop up from time to time.
And of course, many of these "small problems" led to me rationalizing the "need" to make "one more adjustment" to the wood stack, or a little trim of this coral or plant...or maybe tweaking the orientation of a couple of pieces of rock... ("Well, I'm already IN there...")
Easy stuff, right?
I became a sort of "perpetual editor", if you will, of my aquariums! And it was really easy to lose myself in these "little projects."
Stuff that innocently starts at 7:30AM and results in a four hour, call-in-sick-to-work, "5-towel project" of serious proportions. FYI, I often refer to the number of towels required for a project as a "measure" of its seriousness and complexity- a pretty good measure, IMHO! A "1-towel project" would be something easy, like shaking a piece of errant plant debris from the filter intake, whereas a "3-towel project" would be something like a water exchange/internal algae scraping/filter cleaning and media replacement.
A "5-towel project" is an all-hands-on-deck, "man your battle stations!" sort of prospect! You know, the innocent "I just have to move that one piece of wood" thing that starts out innocently and morphs into an all-morning, mind-bending "total re-do" sort of thing- new look, empty tank, stuff everywhere...Full-on "restart" mode. You really didn't want to be around me during a "5-towel project" back in those days.
Yeah, those "5-towel projects..."
I think that since I really dedicated a huge part of my fish keeping life to the blackwater/brackish, botanical-style aquarium genre, I learned to relax...a lot. The reef keeper in me still has a very serious side who wants things "just so", and who wants to keep his tanks "visitor ready" at all times, but with the cool vibe and natural aesthetic of our kind of aquariums, it's a lot easier to "explain away" the small patina of algae on the wood; the biofilm on the botanicals, or some decomposing leaves- part of the deal, and something that actually can educate the uninitiated about our strange, yet earthy obsession!
So, yeah, I suppose you could say that natural, blackwater/brackish, botanical-style aquariums have made me a lot less of a drama queen about my hobby. I mean, it's such a chill vibe and almost yoga-like approach to aquariums that you kind of can't help it! And it really doesn't matter how complex the "job" is- or how unusual the 'end product" is- it's enjoyable and chill and...fun!
And, once you look at enough underwater pics or videos of flooded igapo forests in Brazil, you kind of come to the realization that all of this stuff- the detritus, the biofilms, the decomposing leaves, tinted water- all of it- is simply the way many natural systems look, and that you are working WITH nature, rather than resisting it.
Nature seems to find ways to do stuff way better than we can- even though it may not always fit the "conventional aquarium definition" of beauty. And once you accept this, you'll find yourself creating aquariums that actually try to replicate what you once thought was "ugly."
You come full-circle.
That little "imperfection" you see in your tank, which used to cause such stress, is just Nature doing her thing as part of a cohesive whole...and an existential crisis is easily averted when you make this "mental stretch" and understand just what this botanical thing is really all about. When you realize that it's all part of a process, a system- one that was perfected billions of years before you were born- you'll get it.
It's mind-blowing. Humbling. And altogether inspiring.
The stuff that used to send me into "red alert" mode is simply not that big a concern in the grand scheme of things to me anymore. Accepting this- appreciating this- changed my perspective on the way I keep aquariums forever.
Well, comparatively, lol.
I mean, I still hate water spills, clutter around my tanks, etc. I still like to keep the front glass clear at all times. However, if a piece of decomposing Mangrove leaf is blowing into the current, or a piece of wood has a strand of biofilm on it...I chill.
No freak outs.
No existential crises!
Of late, the "everyday challenges" of maintaining this type of aquarium are simply making sure that everyone is healthy, and that all the equipment is functioning nominally. You know, the usual stuff that most aquarists do. Sure, I still worry about the new fishes that I added, or if that small female Dicrossus is getting her fair share of food- but these are the inescapable, common parts of the game of aquarium keeping- and they'll continue to crop up wether your water is bright white and clear or dark, tinted, and murky.
It's how you approach this stuff that is the difference.
A lesson taught to me...by nature.
Ease into it. Love it.
Stay chill. Stay calm. Stay cool. Stay engaged. Stay proactive. Stay healthy...
And always...Stay Wet.