Not-so-fond farewells...Bad places...Honest confessions...Dealing with trolls...Realizations...


Ohhh, the day finally arrived: Time to re-do my home blackwater aquarium!

It's amazing how the process can take you on a sort of journey...and it's amazing how, when little "things arise" on your journey- it can take you to some very unexpected places...some of them, rather dark...And, yet,-even in the darkness, you can find light. It's awesome how little things in your hobby experience can teach you things about life.

"Okay, Fellman- what did they put in your coffee this morning? It's a fish tank!"

Oh, so, anyways- it's time to rework that tank in my home; get it back to a place that I really enjoy. Yeah, it's time for a not-so-sad farewell to the Asian-themed aquascape that, in all honesty, I never really "bonded" with.

Ever had a tank like that? 

I mean, it was a cool tank. It had deeply tinted water, a nice big wood hardscape...some cool Cryptocorynes, active Rasbora, and...well... and... yeah.

Okay,  wasn't feeling it.

I have to confess- I just never "felt" this tank.

Quite possibly, the least connected I ever felt to an aquarium. Ever.

I'm not sure why, either.

Maybe it's the fact that I'm a South American fish/biotope aficionado, and just can't get over that, or if it's the fact that scape is "dependent" upon aquatic plants- and, beautiful though they are- they just don't excite me very much.

I think it's a little of both.

I mean, I like aquatic plants...Actually, I LOVE them, in my own way- slipping a few into my scapes where appropriate. I've been playing with them more and more lately. However, creating and maintaining a major "plant-centric" aquascape is not in the cards. I admit, it literally bores me. In fact, it bores the hell out of me.

I have no idea why. It shouldn't, right?

But it does....

Yet, it's honest. I respect those who love plants, but I'm just not feeling that obsession...

Of course, I realize that this viewpoint pretty much alienates me from like 85% of the freshwater aquarium hobby, but yeah...I have to be honest with myself.

Oh, good lesson there!

I'm a hardscape, botanical-style kind of guy. Yet, I respect, appreciate, and would even own a beautifully planted "Nature Aquarium" (gulp) style tank...But I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to create one myself.

Like, I'd have someone talented set one up for me and I'll enjoy it, but...

Okay, where am I going?

You're coming on this journey with me- like it or not.

Funny how worlds collide, and a confluence of seemingly unrelated events can often create a revelation of sorts...

Oh, and what is it with some (plant) people? Well, some people in all sorts of hobby specialities, right?

You get attitudes.

Serious attitudes. I've seen that many times over the years.

And of course, the other day, literally, right as I was about to start working on this tank, I made the "mistake" of being a "typical business guy"- checking my emails and messages obsessively when not in the office...And of course, that's usually when "shit" happens, right?

Sure enough, out of the blue, some guy DM'd me on Instagram, and told me that I shouldn't mess with plants, or even discuss them (literally!) unless I go "high tech"- that I'm missing out on the "real" planted tank experience by going "low tech/natural" with plants, blah, blah, blah...He told me that I'm doing "a disservice to the hobby by 'dabbling' in plants in blackwater tanks" and sharing my thoughts this stuff...Literally! I mean, real hostility and for no reason at all.


And it just put me in a really bad mood... I shouldn't have let it, but for some reason, it got to me this time.

I mean, he was basically telling me to pack it in with plants unless I was going to "do it right"- whatever that meant...Well, he told me what he felt that  it meant.

And, that crossed some strange line in my head... It set me off...took me to a very dark place. For some reason...and it was a place where I thought that I'd never go again....And it happened, like, quickly. His timing and tone just arrived in the "wrong place at the wrong time", and me- the normally unflappable, relaxed, "I couldn't give two f--ks about anything" guy- just snapped.

Well, in my head, anyways! My mood immediately changed. I didn't lash out or anything...

Rather, I went to a very immature, very dark place.

I started banging out a response on my iPhone.

I was like, "Okay, yeah...CO2 and monitoring and stuff...for plants? Really?'re so badass, dude!"

It was coral snobbery time here. Yeah, THAT would make me feel better. Sure. Hit back! Hard. F--- him up! 

I was like, "Sorry, way too much effort for a freshwater tank!"

They're freaking plants.

If I want "high tech", I'll do REAL high tech and do a reef tank, which- sorry, planted tank fans- leaves 80% of the planted tanks I've seen in the proverbial dust.

Nothing comes close. I mean, we're talking about reef-building stony corals...

Yeah. Seriously. Plants?  This guy was an elitist plant snob. That was a bit of a joke, in my mind. Yet, he REALLY got under my skin at the time... Like, I'm sure he knows every Bucephalandra cultivar; could identify every type of trendy rock used in the latest contest...and...

Yeah. Attack. Hit him back with his own brand of...nonsense. 'Cuase that's a good idea.

Okay....No, it isn't.

See, that was bad.

I got all chlidlike and was going to strike back via DM with some nasty messaging...

And of course, my roiling anger made me want to call him out and, beat my chest and brag of my superiority because I can grow coral, and...Yeah, this idiot probably couldn't distinguish a Sarcophyton from a Trachyphyllia or an Acropora...for all his attitude, probably can't even read a digital refractometer, plumb a protein skimmer,  or program a...

Whoooaahh...Lot of hostility there.

Like, WAAAAY too much! Where was that attitude coming from? My first thought was to "reverse trash talk" the guy about something HE wasn't that knowledgable make myself feel better somehow? I'm not even into corals at the moment, lol. And why would a plant expert know- or even give a shit about- corals? 

Why would this make me superior or feel good to say such nonsense?

I mean, there is no reason for this.

And if you step back and look at the "logic" behind the foolishness of making such assertions the absurdity becomes crystal clear:

Like, I'm not that into plants; so I don't study them all that much, and have an almost novice-like ignorance about some aspects of them. Sure, if I was really into them, I could probably get up to speed relatively quickly...but I'm not. I mean, I'm not into Fortnight, Game of Thrones, or digital cameras, or drones, or whatever....and if I was, sure, I'd learn all I could about them.

Just like "Mr. Cryptocoryne" could learn all about coral care...if he was interested in them.

Yeah, plants could my thing. I could be really into them.

But I'm not, so I remain surprisingly ignorant, albeit slightly conversive- about them. And that's okay. Yet, that's no reason to turn around, stoop to some troll's level, and give off the same attitude...trash him because of my own insecurities...


I let him push me towards a really dark, unhappy place...both in my mind, and in the hobby. He seemed to unlock some sort of weird insecurity or something in my head...Something I thought I got rid of decades ago...And I wasn't going to go there. Responding in kind would have simply been a ridiculous escalation for no reason.

I realized that this was a very unhealthy, unhappy mindset...toxic -both personally, and to the hobby. The kind of stuff I rail on because of the damage it does. And here I was, on the receiving end of something crazy...and my first instincts were to spew venom back, and I was ready to hit "return..."

What did I do? 

I took a deep breath, and considered how absurd the prospect of an exchange from some place of anger would be. Realized what was really important. I actually laughed at myself, and felt kind of sorry for the guy who shot off the DM...Like, this was the biggest problem in his life? So sad.

Wake up, Scott. You know better.

Yeah, I took a higher road...a better road.A kinder road. I thought through it all. I emerged from a really dark place, better for the journey...

Delete, delete, delete...

I DM'd back, "Thanks for your feedback."

All of this, as I was about to embark on what should have been a fun afternoon- a break in routine from the busy schedule of a bustling business.

Oh. So, yeah...back to the current situation...

What am I going to do? With this tank, anyways?

Well, it's back to South America...well, back to "inspired by South America", anyways...for sure.

What's the plan this time?

I have no idea.

I'm literally going to "shoot from the hip" here...

Well, I've been playing with the whole igapo thing for a while- especially mimicking the wet/dry seasonal dynamic with my "Urban Igapo" nano aquarium experiments. So, do I "scale up" and try a larger version of these successful nano tanks- focusing on the "wet season" (as much as I love the idea, I don't really feel like slowly flooding a 50 gallon tank over several months in my family room at the moment, 'ya know?)...?

Or, do I try to do an "igarape" (the local term for "canoe way...")- a little flooded stream bed, choked with branches and leaves and stuff? A slightly different, more "wood-centric" 'scape, as opposed to more emphasis on leaves and botanicals. So, I could go with more roots and branches...


Or, do I do a sort of flooded grassland...sort of like our friend Tai Strietman has shared?

Well, all of these sound interesting, yet I literally think that on "D-Day", I'm simply going to do what feels good at the time...Just iterate on the fly. With little plan in my head other than to redo stuff...That's crazy, I know.

When I started taking it down, it felt great...but I wasn't in such a hurry to put it back up again. I was like really in this strange mental place because of the whole "DM' thing...I hadn't fully gotten it out of my system before I started, lol

Yet, interestingly, as I worked, I began feeling better and better...And I was getting this sense of clarity.

I removed most of the old substrate, took out all the wood, leaves, pods, etc., did a massive water exchange, pump cleaning, filter media replacement.

I stared at the cloudy tank for a long time, pondering, hoping some idea would pop into my head.

And guess what?

Nothing did. Not one idea. 

I tried playing with a few large pieces of driftwood...I tried to position them in some way, but wasn't feeling all. So, I rapidly yanked them out of the tank, wiped everything down, cleaned up the area...and walked away and called it a day.

Like, didn't even bother to go further. "Don't force it!"

It was weird- I wasn't feeling ANYTHING...

Like, I didn't have a single idea in my head that seemed even remotely exciting to me. Now, I think part of it is that I've been very tired; not sleeping very well, so the physical concentration is not there. The other part was coming from this honest place that told me, "This is supposed to be fun...and there is nothing about this tank that is even remotely fun or interesting at the moment to me."

And of course, there was that DM experience, too, and the emotional realization that arose from it.

I mean, it doesn't matter WHAT the reasons were, I wasn't feeling it, and it felt right to just hold off.

And that was kind of cool, actually. I had clarity. And it was cool, kind of knowing when to say when! A really cool lesson to learn.

And, I mean, at that moment, it felt forced. 

I was like, "I'll set up the tank when I feel like it...this one is for me. So, I'll do it MY way, at a time that feels good to ME!" 

So, in the mean time, I posted a pic of my cloudy, empty, yet tinted tank last night. And for some reason, everyone liked it.

Maybe- possibly- because it comes from a place of...honesty. 

Or, perhaps it's simply because it's kind of exciting to see a blank, albeit a bit cloudy- canvas.

And yeah, it's starting to get a little more exciting again...And will be, when I get back to it.

Lesson learned....

Stay honest. Stay open-minded. Stay calm. Stay kind. Stay thoughtful...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics




Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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