You're a serious aquarist? You are kind of weird...

Are you a serious aquarist?  

You know- a hardcore, not-afraid-of-getting-your hands-wet type? I thought so. I mean, of course you are! You must be a nervous wreck! You've literally got water on the brain! I know you do. It's funny how we often hear of the "therapeutic" value of aquarium keeping: It's stimulating, relaxing, intellectual, etc. "Good for the mind, good for the soul" blah, blah, blah. However, I sense a disconnect. Are we talking about AQUARIUM KEEPING, or AQUARIUM VIEWING? There's a difference, right? 

You bet!

(Do you really think he ever relaxes in front of his aquascape?)

Let's try be honest with ourselves: Is a real hobbyist ever truly "relaxed?" Even the hobbyist with the most high-tech, automated aquarium is going to be preoccupied and occasionally freaked out by his or her tank, with millions of little concerns buzzing around in the deep recesses of the mind: "Why weren't the Tetras swimming left-to-right  today? Did the rise in nitrate from 'undetectable' to 0.5ppm signify impending disaster? What was that little band of mineral deposit around the base of my filter caused by condensation-or a leak?"

I present my hypothesis that a SERIOUS aquarist is never really completely relaxed! We always have something in the back of our minds eating at us: maybe it's concern over some changing parameter, frustration with the way the tank looks, the fact that you KNOW that you SHOULD have used a ball valve in that return feed line but didn't, etc. You know what I mean, right? Right now, you're thinking about the Apisto that's showing way too much interest in your Crystal Red Shrimp.

"I should have just moved it a few inches to the left...!"

Now, I'm not saying that the aquarium hobby isn't relaxing, or that part of the fun of having a tank isn't dealing with all of the little obscure challenges that we deal with on a daily basis with our aquariums. What I AM maintaining is that a SERIOUS aquarist always has some crazy concern about SOME aspect of their system. 

Let's revisit the concept of a "relaxed" viewing of an aquarium.

Sure, I like to kick back in front of my aquarium and enjoy the view, but I just can't stop my mind from wandering a bit, contemplating the "what ifs", or the "should be doings", or the "wonder whys?" I really think that it's actually more relaxing to look at someone else's aquarium that it is to look at our own! When I look at a friend's tank, I just don't seem to notice every little snail on a rock, or every clamped fin on a Danio, or whatever.

I believe that ALL aquarium hobbyists  "suffer", to some extent, from a bit of OCD, or at the very least, ADD. I mean, I can't tell you how many times I've been to conferences where, at the end of a presentation, there is at least one guy rushing out of the conference room on the phone with his/her significant other putting out a fire on his tank: "No, honey- the blue valve! Turn the BLUE VALVE behind the Ehiem! Do it- NOW!!!." And I know that there are quite a few of you reef types out there who have data logging and cell phone connectivity from your aquarium controllers. You always need to know if the temperature of your tank is 78.9F versus 78.6F, right? Do you really need to be told by your controller that the lights are on? I mean, haven't they gone on at the same time every day for the last 4 years? On the other hand, could today be the day that the timer fails-and what if it does..Then what? 

Now we can take our obsession with us. Great.

Seriously, I'm not pointing this out to tell you how creepy I think we all are (that's a good topic for another piece, I'm sure). I AM pointing this out so that we're honest with ourselves. We need to chill a bit! I do think that we truly enjoy every aspect of this hobby. But I also think that it's incredibly easy to take the aquarium thing entirely too seriously! I mean, think about it- in the end, we're talking about a glass or acrylic box filled with water, rocks, wood, plants and fishes. It's kind of funny...

Well, maybe it isn't THAT funny. We do have a responsibility to the animals under our care, and we all want to safeguard our family and property from harm and damage-but man, we sure get a bit crazy uptight about it all, don't we? Maybe THAT'S why they make those "aquarium" screen savers for computers, right? For the rest of the general public that doesn't understand our obsession! Could you imagine if a REAL aquarium hobbyist designed one of those screen savers? There would be occasional algae outbreaks, anomalous pH dips, white spots on fishes....Just like the REAL THING!!! Yikes.

True story: I remember visiting the home of a very well known reef aquarist after a talk a few years back A bunch of us fish geeks were there after a nice night out, watching his awesome tanks and delighting in an angelfish spawning. Then the unthinkable happened. Someone tripped over a feed line to a calcium reactor in his fish room. Water poured out; a valve cracked!

The owner quickly moved in to isolate the spill- the SPILL was not the concern. What WAS the concern is that it was a Saturday night and there was no way to get the reactor replaced or repaired until Monday. The beautiful reef that depended on this reactor for 5 years was in peril. Our collective hearts sank; we shared this guy's pain. We knew the feeling. He was stoic, maintaining that he could get a part to repair it after his son's soccer game the next day.

But I knew what was going through his mind. We ALL did. He couldn't rest on this. He would not sleep until the problem was resolved. A TRUE hobbyist. One of the guys in attendance had the spare part that he needed. But it was 1:45AM, and the guy lived an hour away. It would have to wait until tomorrow. NOT! The reefer did what we all would do- He got in the car and drove 60 miles to get the part at the fellow hobbyist's house. He fixed the problem. Immediately. Without "sleeping on it." That, my friends, is a SERIOUS hobbyist all the way! That's what I'm talkin' about!

If one goes, could the rest follow? Why wait?

Have you noticed that we love to collect stuff? LOVE it! We go to auctions, walking home carefully with fry of fishes we don't need- in fact, never thought about before the meeting, smelly microform cultures, and get really excited about things like  clumps of Java Moss in a plastic bag. I sometimes wonder if half of the fun of the hobby is the thrill of acquiring and collecting the stuff, a subconscious "genetic programming" within us that pays homage to our hunter-gatherer past. We have arguments on Internet message boards about the merits of various filter systems. DIRTED PLANTED TANKS??? REALLY? No wonder the non-hobby world thinks that we're a bit...geeky!

And so what if we are? We are dedicated, studious, stimulating, and adventurous people who are brimming over with enthusiasm for the love of our hobby/lifestyle! We pass knowledge on to each other and hopefully, to our children. We have a cool common language. Through our experiences, bitter failures, and hard-earned successes, we have helped unlock some of the mysteries of the natural world, for the benefit of all.

(...And we love a good auction! )

I'm afraid to admit that were all crazy. Nuts. Absolutely wacked. Don't think for a minute that YOU are the only normal one. You aren't . You have a freezer with frozen brine shrimp in it, and a bowl of LIVE BLACK WORMS in the refrigerator, much to your family's dismay. You collect plastic buckets, towels, and dental tools to work in your tank. And don't deny that you don't take that "one last glance" at the tank before you go to sleep, or that one quick wipe down of the front glass before you head out each morning. You're obsessed. 

And you're also devoted, and engaged.

That's my diagnosis, you poor wet-thumbed aquarists. I do love you guys and girls, crazy though YOU are! 

As for me- the SANE one- the voice of REASON..I don't quite know what to make of your plight. I just don't. Sucks to be you...

Ohh- wait a minute, I'll be right back. I need to wipe the condensation off of that LED over my tank. And what is that clicking sound in the filter? A stuck impeller? In my filter? No. Can't be. Maybe it's just_______?

Until next time,

Stay geeked out. Stay devoted. Stay a bit...wierd.

And most important-

Stay Wet

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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