It's a sexy hashtag that we've embraced over the years for Tannin- it sounds cool. Yet, it's one which, in my opinion, captures the ultimate "essence" of our philosophy. A way of capturing aspects of nature in our aquarium in a manner that accepts it as it is, rather than how we want it to be.
Simplicity. Complexity. Creativity. Transience. "Randomness."
We receive so many PM's, emails, phone calls, and other inquiries from hobbyists when we run pieces featuring pics and discussions about natural environments as topics for modeling our aquaria, excited about the details and how they can be replicated in an aquarium, that it's not even funny!
And every aquarium pic that is shared by our community, which utilizes elements of nature in a similar matter is studied, elevated...even adored- as a representation of the genius of nature.
It makes sense.
In my own rebellious way, I can't help but think that part of this enthusiasm our community has for this stuff is that most hobbyists in general have a bit of a rebellious streak, too, and that maybe, just maybe- we're a bit well, "over" the idea of the "rule-centric", mono-stylistic, dogmatic thinking that has dominated the aquascaping world for the better part of a decade.
Maybe it's time to look at nature as an inspiration again- but to look at nature as it exists- not trying to sanitize it; clean it up to meet our expectations of what an aquarium is "supposed to look like." And by the same token, not going to the other extreme-trying to validate every twig, rock, and plant in a given habitat, as if we're being "scored" by some higher power- a universal "quality assurance team"- which must certify that each and every rock and branch is, indeed from the Rio Manacapuru, for example, or your work is just some sort of travesty.
Not that there is anything wrong with this pursuit, or that I take any issue with talented hobbyists who enjoy that route. I identify with them more than the "high concept" aquascape crowd for sure! I'm just curious if there is a "middle ground" of sorts where nature is the primary influence, and accepting it and attempting to replicate it "as-is" becomes the goal.
I think that there is.
It's time to take inspiration from the reality of nature, not just its "essence."
Maybe it's time for us to once and for all accept that things are not aesthetically "perfect" in nature, in the sense of being neat and orderly from a "design" aspect. Understanding that, yeah, in nature, you have branches, rocks and botanicals materials scattered about on the bottom of streams in a seemingly random, disorderly pattern. Or are they? Could it be that current, weather events, and wind distribute materials the way they do for a reason? Could we benefit from replicating this dynamic in our aquariums?
And, is there not incredible beauty in that apparent "randomness?"
Now, I realize that a glass box is NOT a flooded Amazonian forest, mangrove estuary, or Asian peat bog. I realize that we're constrained by size and water volume. However, it can look and function like one to some degree, right? The same processes which occur on a grander scale in nature also occur on a micro-scale in our aquariums. And we can understand and embrace these processes as an essential part of the aquatic environment.
Accepting the appearance of biofilms, murky water, algae, decomposing botanical materials, and that these things occur in our aquariums, too, and can be managed to take advantage of their benefits. You know, as supplemental food sources, "nurseries" for fry, and as interesting little ways to impart beneficial humic substances and dissolved organics into the water.
Please don't misunderstand me here.
I'm not attacking "the establishment" and saying that every perfectly manicured competition aquascape sucks. I'm not saying that if a tank doesn't have blackwater, biofilms, and brown leaves that it's "uninspired." I'm merely questioning the high level of esteem which the broader aquascaping world seems to attach to conforming to some rigid style, replicating the work of others, and being rather close-minded to the work of hobbyists who try truly different things.
Some of the most amazing comments we receive after sharing underwater pics of the wild habitats of Amazonia and elsewhere are from hobbyists who, at first, thought that some of these pics were from someones' aquarium! In a few instances, some of the close ups of botanical-themed aquaria are virtually indistinguishable from wild scenes!
That says a lot.
What an incredible dynamic!
Blurring the lines between nature and the aquarium, at the very least, from an aesthetic sense- and in many aspects, from a "functional" sense, proves just how far today's hobbyists have come...how good you are at what you do. And how much more you can do when you turn to nature as an inspiration, and embrace it for what it is.
I'm not telling you to turn your back on the modern popular aquascaping scene; to disregard or dismiss the brilliant wolf being done by aquascapers around the world, to develop a sense of superiority or snobbery, and conclude that everyone who loves this stuff is a sheep...
Not at all.
I'm simply the guy who's passing along the gentle reminder from nature that we have this great source of inspiration that really works! Rejoice in the fact that nature offers an endless variety of beauty, abundance, and challenge- and that it's all there, free for us to interpret it as we like. It's not all perfect "rule of thirds" or flawless layouts and such.
Some of us just happen to like things bit more "natural" than others...
Blur the lines.
Continue to take pride in what you do.
Don't let dogma and the prevailing mindset of "what's cool" distract you from doing what you love and believe in. Embrace, enjoy, and accept the thoughts, attitudes, and works of others, while constantly questioning and striving to do what moves you.
Find what makes your heart sing, and do it. You'll never be "wrong."
Stay on course. Stay bold. Stay inspired. Stay humble. Stay fascinated.
And Stay Wet.