Crossing the "gauntlet"...

Much like life, the aquarium hobby is filled with excitement, gratification, frustration, joy, heartache, and everything in between. It's more than just a hobby for many- rather, lifestyle of sorts- and that brings all sorts of lessons and "takeaways" with it, doesn't it?

Seems like just about everything we do in aquarium keeping invloves some sort of "right of passage", or "barrier to entry" before you achieve exactly what you want to achieve, right?

You know, a challenge or "gauntlet" that you need to get through somehow before ultimately getting to where you want to be. Like, it starts out easy, but after a short period of time- there IT is..Waiting for you. That challenge. And there is only one way to go if you want to progress: Forward.

Time to throw down.

I see this with crystal clarity with the botanical- style aquariums we espouse so much here: 

A week or two after completing your 'scape and getting your prepared botanicals into your aquarium, there come the biofilms and fungal growths. Of course, these will grow at a rate which is a bit unpredictable, yet often peak and either pass in a relatively short time, or wane to a more "tolerable" level. Knowing that it will always be present in your botanical-style aquarium is a real "right of passage" for everyone involved in this game- requiring an adjustment to our expectations- a mental shift.

You just have to understand what these growths are, and why they form. And celebrate them instead of simply fear them. You begin to understand and appreciate the biofilms, fungal growths, and decomposition and what they mean to a closed aquatic ecosystem. And you accept and indeed, celebrate- the progression and the many unique characteristics of botanical-style systems.

In our world, it means understanding that the stuff you're seeing in your aquarium- the stuff which might freak you out a bit- is exactly what you see in Nature.

You've made a mental shift that will equip you well to advance in your journey with this type of aquarium.

You've "crossed the gauntlet" and came out on the other side.

It's an achievement worth celebrating, isn't it?

"Running the gauntlet" is part of the game in this hobby.

Yeah, the shit you have to go through before you get exactly what you want. Not always fun. Often times, challenging and perhaps, annoying, to say the least. Only those aquarists who "prove their mettle" by not shirking from the challenges, or calling it quits, reap the ultimate rewards.

In this social-media fueled, finished product-heavy, "Insta-beautiful" world, the reality of the aquarium hobby is that you need to "go through some stuff" to get there. You simply can't expect to circumvent these things and have a "finished product" without putting in the work.

There are a lot of "rights of passage" and "gauntlets" in aquarium keeping, huh?

For example, before you can get a breeding pair of cichlids, you often have to go through a bunch of specimens, with their aggressive courting rituals and violent challenges to members of the same and the opposite sex, often requiring you to intervene to avoid injury. You need to be observant, patient, and diligent...Ultimately, after all the maneuvering, all of the challenges, and all of the time, you end up with a healthy, compatible pair for years.

Another gauntlet crossed.

Need another example? Okay, let's cross the "salinity line" for a second.

Reef aquariums are envied by many. They're beautiful and complex closed ecosystems, brimming with colorful life.

However, to get to the desired "drool-worthy" phase, you generally have to go through a succession of awful algae blooms, a protracted nitrogen cycle establishment phase, and a sort of "settling in" period for your corals and inverts. before they even start to grow. And there is always the challenge of incompatibility, competition for space and resources, water chemistry fluctuations, etc. Monitoring, observing, testing, patience- and the passage of time- are the keys. And if you persevere, and if you make the right moves- THEN, you get to enjoy a thriving, colorful reef aquarium.

Those who tire early, look for "shortcuts", or fold and and quit- don't get the privilege of enjoying these systems. Simple as that...Well, "simple" if you understand the concept, that is.

A "gauntlet" to run.

"High tech" planted aquariums require very careful setup, management, a set of ugly-ass algae blooms, adjustments to dosing, CO2, etc. before they begin to look like the green scenes of our dreams. You can't rush this stuff. To do so is to violate the laws of the natural world. And, as we know, Nature imposes rigid "penalties" for those who attempt to circumvent her challenges. You need to stay focused, observant, diligent, and calm.

Yeah, you need to push through the gauntlet set by Nature to get the reward you seek.

Sensing a theme here?

Even when you're setting up your first community aquarium, there are basic principles of tank management to learn, a nitrogen cycle to establish, algae blooms to deal with...

All of these challenges can be seen as a sort of a "gauntlet" to pass through.

At the very least, they're "rights of passage" that we need to understand, work through, and learn from.

The point of these examples is not to say that the aquarium hobby is incredibly difficult or ridiculously challenging. It's not all "make or break" moments. And challenges, rights of passage, "gauntlets", or whatever we want to label them as are not bad things at all. Not "negatives" or reasons to abort on our goals.

They are simply things that we need to understand and perhaps make some mental or other adjustments in our thinking, changes in practices, or tweaks to our physical setups in order to advance in the hobby. And sometimes, we simply have to be patient. Many times, we have to do nothing more than observe, inquire, study, accept, and learn.

Challenging stuff sometimes, but very important if we're trying to achieve success in the hobby.

The point is to show you that just about everything that we want to accomplish in aquarium keeping requires passing through some "barrier to entry"- some set of challenges that test our patience, require us to adjust, make changes, slow down, make "mental shifts" and adapt a patient attitude- before we can move on to the next steps in our journey.

These rights of passage continue to follow us throughout our aquarium careers...the more advanced the things are that we try, the greater the barriers to entry- and the more important a high degree of patience is required in order to overcome them. They never really "go away"...the challenges, that is. Nor the desire to do different things in the hobby. These are what advance our hobby- push the state of the art, and inspire others to do more.

That kind of stuff never changes.

What changes is our point of view; our attitude.

A mental shift.

It seems that, after a period of time facing the regular challenges in aquaristics, we come to understand, even expect- sometimes even welcome them- as signs that we are progressing. Rather than something to dread, these "barriers" become familiar "signposts"- landmarks, if you will- that tell us that we're progressing on the right path. Much like life, the aquarium hobby demands our best, and will reward us in kind- if we stay at it and somehow "prove our worthiness."

The key ingredient is to be patient.

To never fear the challenges. To never be discouraged by the setbacks. All they represent are simply barriers to entry on the long path towards accomplishing our goals. 

Expect that doing great things requires a lot of work, and accepting that Nature throws us some stuff that we are often not expecting. And trying to understand them, rather than being forced out of the hobby by them- is the key.

Learn from these challenges. 

Regardless of what the hobby throws at you, stay encouraged.

Stay diligent. Stay steadfast. Stay observant. Stay optimistic. Stay patient...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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