I'm thinking of my time last year back in Georgia- sweet Sakartvelo (as it is known to Georgians themselves). Georgia holds a great collection of the world's oldest hilltop churches and hillside monasteries- these things are the top human symbol of Georgia to me.
Mountains bejeweled with special plants is the natural image.
Dr. Shamil Shetekauri (in red, between his incredibly professional drivers Valeri and Valiko) is a botanist, working for Tbilisi's Botanic Gardens and University. Not only does he know his plants, he cares about them and knows them intimately in their native haunts in the Caucasus.
(Gentiana verna var. angulosa: please note the incredible darker blue edging)
An Armenian friend of mine says that "Caucasians know how to make diverse incomes for themselves." I assume that this is true for Mr. Shamil and his business. He puts his knowledge to work and takes international naturalists on bus tours and hikes through Georgia, taking them strait to the best and most beautiful about his country's wilderness.
What is lovely about eco-tourism is that it puts economic value on biodiversity in places where biodiversity may be incredibly rich but incredibly threatened. The reason is simple: The world's folks are just more interested in feeding their children than the length of the list of endemics in their country. I don't blame them.
Ecotourism, as small or as large as it may be in any given area, is a beautiful solution to this. Beautiful.
But speaking of children, I must write about Shamil's sons. Gaga proved to be the official sales rep for Dr. Shetekauri's book on Caucasian plants. Then there is Tolkha. (Above: presiding over a lunchtime picnic spread for a group of visiting flower fanatics such as myself) He and I got be be friends. I admire him. He puts american kids his age to shame. He is quiet, not a whiner, and is studying Botany to follow his father, while working hard on the side in practice as translator and a very professional tour guide the family business' tour groups. Add German and English to his pursuits and you've got an exemplary teenager. He is already quite familiar with much of the country's flora and carries a certain peace and humility about him (rare in young people) that looks quite right with a backdrop of verdant steep Georgian mountainsides.
He taught me much, inadvertantly, about Georgian people and flowers. I think so warmly of him and cannot wait to go hiking with him again someday; I expect we both will have grown much by then.