After a certain number of years in the aquarium keeping game, it seems as if you develop, in addition to an ever-growing collection of fish, tanks, mineral-encrusted equipment, and “stuff”, a certain “je ne sais quoi” - an intrinsic knowledge, a “sixth sense”, or even a swagger, if you will, about your aquariums. Am I right here? I mean, after you’ve collected, kept, bred- and yeah, unfortunately- killed- your fair share of ‘em, you kinda just “know” when things are going well, and when something is terribly amiss with your collection. It’s a skill- or perhaps- a blessing- or even a “curse” that we afflicted fish geeks acquire during our tenure in the aquarium-keeping hobby..
Healthy? Unhealthy? You can tell, huh? You just can.
You know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you? Yeah…You’ve developed that crazy ability to look beyond the obvious when observing your tank, and being able to quickly ascertain what’s going on in there. You can tell at a glance that your favorite cichlid is just not behaving right, or that your prized Aponegeton is about to go south. Perhaps it’s a result of that new fertilizer you just switched to, or that change you made to your lighting program. Maybe, it’s a result of postponing your regular water change. Regardless of what it is, you have the ability to sense something is not right.
After dealing with- no- obsessing with- aquariums for a few years, you certainly develop a personal “baseline” for your animals, and when something is “not right”, it’s immediately apparent to you. And the interesting thing is that this ability comes to EVERYONE who keeps aquariums…It’s not a skill reserved for the privileged few or the occasionally “gifted” aquarist…No- it’s a skill that we DEVELOP over time based on observing and adjusting…and enduring” the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of an aquarium. For that matter, you have the ability to know when your tank is just...cranking! Just "on", with everything looking great and in the peak of health. You don't need a test kit to determine this...you can tell.
When it's on...it's obvious to you, isn't it?
Sure, you can read all about fishes and plans and their care on line, in a book, or in a magazine, but the ultimate skill comes from practicing aquarium keeping. In other words, the hobby really separates the “talkers” from the “doers” without doubt or prejudice. You know because you’re a fish geek. And if you don’t know, you’ll learn if you stay in the game. You’ll encounter pests, equipment failures, diseases, bad results resulting from bad decisions. You’ll also learn from the great decisions that you’ve made; from the hunch that you played about moving that Sword Plant over a few inches to the right. From the time that you passed on adding that Cory to your system, or from the brilliant decision to change out that old heater that was sticking in the “on” position.
No matter how large or how small your tank is…No matter what type of methodology you embrace, the longer you stay in the game, the more you’ll develop this skill as long as you practice aquarium keeping. The funny thing is, even though it makes sense that, yeah- the longer you do something, the better you get at it- not everyone acts on this information. Some people can recognize that something is amiss, but they fail to interpret it or do something about it.
You’ll develop the sense I’m talking about almost from day one in the hobby. However, what separates the “talented” fish keeper from the masses who simply keep fish tanks is that the aquarist with talent knows what to do with this innate sense. He or she knows that, if something is not right, they need to make this or that adjustment- or even do nothing at all. They know this because they practice aquarium keeping, discuss aquarium keeping, and well- live, eat, drink, sleep aquarium keeping. It becomes not just a hobby, but a lifestyle. They have an attachment to their tanks much the way a dog or cat owner has that attachment to their beloved pet. It’s way beyond just a hobby- it becomes part of a lifestyle.
Yeah, to some people, it’s not only part of their lifestyle, but a dominant factor in their existence, affecting all sorts of other decisions, such as relationships, travel, home buying decisions, and economic goals. Sometimes, it’s not a healthy thing, either. I’ve known aquarium hobbyists whose relationships failed, finances collapsed, and lifestyles negatively affected because they were more in tune with their tanks than they were with the other realities of life. I mean, yeah, those are extreme cases with perhaps other types of dysfunction already present, yet for the majority of us, he signs of aquarium keeping's affects on our lives-good and bad- are everywhere for almost all of us, if you think about it.
When was the last time you decided NOT to install that new piece of equipment before you left on the family vacation, because you were afraid of the possibility that it could fail when you were out of town? Or, perhaps you passed on a social engagement because you were doing a major overhaul to your aquascaping. Or maybe, you didn’t get that new dishwasher you really needed because it was more important at the time to get the new LED system for your tank…Subtle decisions that can have greater impact down the line, or even collectively- possibly leading your life into unexpected new directions as a result. Sure, these are extreme interpretations, but there are unintended consequences- booth good and bad- to being a hardcore aquarist. The difference is about how you let it affect you and the rest of your life, I think.
Aquarium keeping is part of your life, but it should just be "part" of your life...
On the good side, many people have developed lifelong friendships as a result of their hobby. Some have went on to start companies that affected the industry and hobby. Still others went on to share their experiences with others by writing or speaking. Rewarding turns that have enriched lives greatly- not only for the aquarist- but for the other aquarists he or she came into contact with as a result of their mutual love for the hobby.
The intriguing thing about this hobby is just how addicting or engaging it can be. How all-encompassing and satisfying it is. I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who “dabbles” with aquarium keeping. They’re either hooked on it, or they keep Goldfish or something. Why is that? Well, I think that part of the reason is that once you try a tropical fish tank, you just “get it”, and your interest and passion blossom from there. Aquarium keeping offers stimulation and challenges that few other hobbies can.
For us, it's fishes.
Those of us who are hardcore fish geeks are basically in it for life. Sure, there might be a year or two where circumstances keep us out of the game for a bit, but we never fully disengage. I know a lot of hobbyists who had awesome tanks, and then for one reason or another, got out for a while…However, when they got back into it- and they ALWAYS did- they would tell me things like, “Yeah, I always followed the forums and read the magazines and stuff..” It just never really gets out of your system.
This “thing” that we do- this hobby, pastime- obsession…whatever you wan to call it, seems to encompass every emotion and experience you can have in life, doesn’t it? Pleasure, pain, happiness, sorrow, frustration, a sense of individuality, as well as a sense of belonging- they’re all there.
When did YOU know that you had that “thing” for fish keeping? Was it a gradual transition from other aquatic interests, or was it this thing that just hit you one day? Did you start on your own, or did someone else get you hooked? How long did it take to get hooked on this hobby? What kind of impact does fish keeping have on the rest of your life?
Interesting questions to ponder, aren’t they?
Stay engaged. Stay balanced. Stay obsessed...
And Stay Wet.