Jeffrey Buckwalter, the Doctor who found Balance in Nature
I spotted Jeffrey from two hundred yards away, just as one might spot a rare bird or flower in the wilderness. The group of workers and volunteers was busy setting up the display of native flowers and ferns for sale on the outdoor counters, trimming rough edges, water spraying the plants like beauticians pampering their teen clients before the prom. On a beautiful Saturday spring morning like this, visitors from around the region and beyond are expected to arrive and stroll the majestic paths of this unique Bucks County PA, nature attraction. All of the volunteers wear green shirts and hats but even without my binoculars, Dr. Buckwater, who is simply known here as “Jeff”, is easy to spot as he stands out with his roaring laughter, and the presence of a man who is confidently comfortable in his natural habitat.
We sit outside on a bench next to the Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve (BWHP) Visitor Center and Jeffrey tells me his story.
Listen to the full conversation
As a child, growing up in the Midwest, Jeffrey was always fascinated with horticulture. He remembers visiting his grandparents in Pennsylvania and loving all that this area had to offer. After completing his medical residency in New Haven, CT as an ENT surgeon, Jeffrey and his wife discovered the Bucks County area and decided to settle down in Doylestown, a town that accommodated both their career aspirations and their love of nature. It was the perfect setting for seeding a family and a successful career.
As retirement was nearing, Jeffrey was looking forward to the opportunity of pursuing his passion for the nature. Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve was the natural choice. Sitting on the Bowman’s Hill ridge, the pastoral 100 square acre lot of the preserve is surrounded by a deer fence to protect the “vertical growth” of plants. From the smallest flower to the largest tree, the preserve is a safe environment for a rich diversity of indigenous, native plants that cover the hill with spectacular shades of color. Jeffery, as many other naturalists and volunteers, got hooked on the place. Soon enough, he would learn about the changing cycles of flowers, ferns, trees and birds and also become a part of the landscape of the preserve.
The Virtue of Balance
Other than being an exceptionally nice sightseeing stop, Jeffrey believes that the preserve has more important role to play — educating for sustainability and preserving nature in its raw, local form, with as little human interference as possible.
Dr. Buckwalter started his medical career as a Head Neck Cancer surgeon. He eventually specialized in ear surgery and became very actively involved in the study of balance. He realized that the cardiovascular, neurological systems and ear disease are all issues that can impact human balance and cause injuries, some even fatal, especially as we age. Jeffery initiated and led a multidisciplinary Center for Balance, with the support of major hospitals, including the Doylstown Hospital, where he worked and studied balance improvement and fall prevention for elderly patients.
I asked Jeffery how nature and balance are connected.
“Trees get really old, hundreds or even thousands of years old. As they age, their structure changes. The type of growth evolves from shooting up in height to branching out and building a thicker core. Also with changes in the environment, trees can and do adapt to fit the new conditions. As people get older, it is important for them to also adapt to their environment. Humans are not as adaptable to aging as plants are. Unlike plants, we need to implement behavioral changes. I study the cognitive neuro-science of aging.” Jeffrey quotes and recommends reading Dr. Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, and Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal. The latter studied the social structure for illness and death and the healing affects on cognition when introducing nature into nursing homes, specifically, the effect on the rate of dementia and depression. Jeffrey sites research on aging done in Ashville, NC, where he did a medical rotation, while attending the University of North Carolina Medical School. The study examined how spending time in and interacting with nature positively effects and improves health and one’s attitude towards aging, illness and death.
Dr. Buckwalter’s Secret Agenda
As we dive deeper into our conversation, Jeffery reveals his secret motivation for being so invested in the Preserve. With a lot of conviction, Jeffery talks about an obligation to help people recognize why coming to the “Bowman sanctuary” as he calls it; walking the trails, discovering birds and plants while engaging with the terrain and the natural habitat, helps center people not on their problems but rather in harmony with nature. “It works!” Jeffery exclaims, “Also on you and me, being a part of the environment helps us deal with the alienation and isolation of the world.”
Jeffrey points out that like the plants and the trees all the volunteers form their own habitat- a community who supports and cares for one other. “A community that helps in coping with aging and unfortunately, at times, with grief.”
Jeff almost seems offended when I ask him if they are reaching “common” people with their message. He points out the misconception that being enthusiastic about wild flowers is limited to botanists and experts. “You don’t have to be a plant nerd to love this place. It’s a misconception of education. People should be engaged in something that evokes passion and then the education comes naturally.” He points out that BHNP offers many education programs and lectures on various topics but acknowledges that maybe they should expand on their reach to newbies.
His favorite flowers are the ephemerals, the early bloomers that come just before the tree leaves come out, especially the Blood Root (Sanguinaria Canadensis) a beautiful white flower that only lasts for two or three days and then it is gone. After I swear to secrecy (sorry Jeff) he points toward the field of Blue Bell flowers, right below the visitor center, as the best kept secret in the valley by the creek.
Jeffrey loves the challenge of identifying ferns. He points out that even though they look so similar, each one is unique. He takes pride of the nursery he volunteers in and the fact that they can produce an unimaginable amount of new seeds and plants. When we take a short walk around the preserve Jeffery introduces me to his fellow volunteers. “This place is filled with unique plants and unique beauty,” he tells me pointedly, as we pass by the volunteers.
Jeffrey Buckwalter’s Guide to Local Living
What to bring when you come out to Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve
Good walking or hiking shoes, binoculars for bird watching and a magnifying glass
Not to miss when visiting
The early bloom of the ephemerals in the spring
Take a guided tour with a naturalist. The weekend lecture series at the preserve is fascinating and runs through the winter.
A good place to dine after visiting the preserve
The Bowman’s Hill Tavern just at the entrance of the Bowman’s Preserve