As I often do, I was chatting “fish” with Jake the other day, and the conversation inevitably turned towards our upcoming aquarium projects. If you read my blog regularly, it’s no secret that I have rekindled my love affair with freshwater aquariums. Although I’ve dabbled with a few FW nanos here and there, it’s been almost a decade since I last kept a freshwater tank of any significance. While I was waxing on about my ideas for some exotic freshwater display I was contemplating, Jake causally remarked, “Dude, you gotta walk before you can run. Why don’t you get back in the game with a basic planted tank with good fundamentals, instead of going off on some wacky concept tank?”
Man, those words hit home! Here I was- the guy who’s always provoking the hobby to push the limits by trying new marine concept aquaria-and I’m trying to jump back into the freshwater side and trying to go from 0-100 in 2 seconds flat…why? The modern freshwater world has evolved over the years until the state of the art is practically unknown to me. and I’m trying to do the same thing I do in saltwater. I mean, Jake is right: It’s okay to push for the outside of the envelope after you’ve mastered the fundamentals, but the key word is AFTER. Have my decades of marine experience left me…arrogant? Perhaps. Or maybe just a bit jaded.
I was thinking about what’s wrong with slowing down, checking your ego at the door, and absorbing the knowledge and acquiring the skills that you need to be successful? Nothing. Why not do some research, experiment, or talk to someone who has more experience than you do? It’s never too late to learn something new, or open up your mind to the possibilities.
Perhaps, those of us in the marine hobby are so caught up in the minutiae of our obsession, such as the debate over which coral is the “true” “Aussie War Coral,” or if that little Acropora colony in the back of the tank is a real “ORA Miami Orchid”, that we tend to forget to learn about the behavioral habits of our Pseudochromis fridmani, how to hatch brine shrimp, or how to set a up a quarantine protocol. As much as we think that we are “masters of the universe”, we always have another think to learn, or even to be humbled by. That’s the frustration-and/or pleasure (depending upon how you look at it) of our hobby.
I’ve learned over the years, along with a whole bunch of other fairly successful long-term hobbyists- that, in order to be a better hobbyist, you really need to be a better student of the art and science of aquatics, willing and open-minded enough to listen and learn from others more experienced than yourself. What that means is not just knowing the flow rate of the latest titanium needle wheel pump or configuration of the hottest LED lighting unit- it means is that you should willingly embrace the fundamentals, such as the relationship between our captive animals and the aquarium environment, and the art of a good water change.
By immersing yourself in the art and science of aquatics, you ‘re definitely going to evolve as a hobbyist, and become a more humble, more balanced, and ultimately- more successful- aquarist. An aquarist for life, who will be able to pass on the wisdom gained through trial and error-triumph and failure- to another generation of aquarists.
The simple conversation with Jake compelled me to re-examine my relationship with the world of aquatcs, and to reflect back on the journey I’ve made so far in the hobby, and the fascinating road that lies ahead. My philosophy is not simply a return to the basics of the hobby. Rather, it’s an adjustment of my hobby mindset, and the embracing of a more open, refreshing outlook. I want to push myself a little outside of my hobby “comfort zone”, and learn a few things that I’ve never done before. Damn, I’m actually going to have to shut up and listen for a change. This is gonna be harder than I thought.
It’s no secret to my readers that I have a little more than a causal interest in the art of marine aquascaping. I have been blessed to travel all over the country and written in venues all over the world, sharing what I’ve learned on this topic. Just maybe, I’ve helped inspire others to try new things. It has been quite rewarding, yes, but what do I really know? What more can I learn that will make me better at my craft? How can I push myself to improve? It’s time for me to embark on some new missions of aquatic self-discovery.
Well, this summer, I’m going to do just that. I’m going to go visit Jake in Denver and spend some time walking the local streams and observing the aquatic environment, collecting some rocks for my freshwater tanks. Listening to him talk about his philosophies on a well-balanced planted aquarium. Learning from nature-and from other hobbyists, just what is involved in the art of aquatic rock selection and arrangement will have direct “cross over impact” on my marine work. As my friend John Ciotti told me, if you sort of “listen” to rocks, they tell you a story that will help you create the aquascape of your dreams. That’s very interesting to me.
I’m planning on doing some more diving on tropical reefs this summer to really observe the interactions between animals and their environment. Particularly of interest to me are the social behaviors of small fishes within their ecological niches. Hopefully, I will gain some more insight about them that will help me make better stocking decisions and aquascaping for specific needs.
I’m going to spend a lot more time talking to my friends who are involved in breeding marine fishes, to glean some insight into just what it is that they are doing to make their animals comfortable enough to reproduce in captivity. Learning a new set of rules and a new way of looking at husbandry from people truly in the know. This will certainly help me learn even more about aquatic husbandry, even if I don’t intend to breed fishes at the moment.
I can’t wait to start my new journey of aquatic self-discovery, and I urge you to do the same. It will be a fascinating journey- perhaps even a bit humbling- but the knowledge to be learned and experiences to be had will make the journey well worth it. And most importantly, the people you’ll meet along the way will make life that much richer.
Keep learning. Keep discovering. Keep pushing. But above all, keep sharing.
Now, about that empty tank in my garage. I’ve been thinking…
Until next time.