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Making a Difference
By David Prather
On the Wild Side
THE TITUSVILLE HERALD, Titusville, Pa. 

There’s an oft-told story of a young woman and a scientist watching her at the beach.  The woman repeatedly picks up starfish washing up on the sand and throws them back into the sea.  Eventually the scientist can take it no more.

“Young lady,” he calls, approaching her.  “Don't you know that millions of starfish wash up on the world’s beaches and die?  Do you really think your actions make one bit of difference?”

As the woman tosses another one back into the ocean she replies, “It makes all the difference in the world to this one!”

John Ohl of rural Titusville is much more than a maintenance custodian at Titusville Middle School.  He’s got them eating right out of his hand—bluebirds, that is.

I once thought John was a dummy, but that turned out to be a mannequin outside his workshop window.  In the hand of the mannequin were mealy worms.  John would whistle and Mr. Bluebird would leave the birdhouse and take a worm from the hand.  A true gentleman, the male would fly to the house to feed his mate before returning for his own treat.  Within a few days John replaced the dummy with himself, and the bluebird didn’t mind at all.

In reality, John Ohl is anything but a dummy.  Married to Karla Ohl, the Titusville High School French teacher, John is an expert ornithologist and very knowledgeable about the plant kingdom, too.

As John and I sat on the Ohl’s back deck I was impressed with the pervasive peace accentuated only by the song of a Baltimore oriole or dove.  The Ohl home is on a knoll a hundred yards above Prather Run, where John has placed feeders of every kind.  One only dispenses thistle seed and the gold finches love it.

Nearby, a grape jelly dispenser on a stand awaits frequent visits from two pair of orioles. Red cardinals feast at another on finch mix.  A host of feathered friends are gathering at the large feeder stocked with a complete mix of seeds and grain.

John places some fresh mealy worms in the stand on the deck. One whistle from him and I am staring face to lace with a dashingly suited bluebird.  Immediately I am captivated by his dark black eyes, wise and gentle.  His rusty rose breast complements the brilliance of his cloak.  Nodding thanks, he flies to a nearby branch and rewards his mate.  I watch in awe.

“Anyone can teach them to come for mealy worms,” John smiles shyly.  “It’s all in the book,” he says as Karla enters the deck with a copy of Bring Back the Bluebirds by Andrew M. Troyer.  Mrs. Ohl is wearing a great T-shirt from the high school Eco-Club.  It features a cardinal, a chick-a-dee, a bluebird and a wax warbler—all common to our area.  Troyer’s book is available from The Bird’s Paradise, 20835 Morris Road, Conneautville.

John volunteers, “When you are bird watching, you can’t concentrate on anything but the bird—the whole world is put aside.”

Ohl spends some of his best moments in a camouflaged blind in his backyard photographing his avian friends.  From its two slots, one for his 35 mm Pentax and one for his Kodak 3400 Digital camera, he has taken some outstanding photographs.

John spends a lot on his feathered visitors, but it is obvious that he is amply rewarded.  We all are, whether we know it or not.

As I departed the Ohl residence, John quoted Troyer’s tale about two visiting college professors who had Troyer’s bluebirds eating out of their hands.

One said, “I felt like I was Adam back in the Garden of Eden.”

The other added, “It was like a touch of Heaven.”

Making a difference does have its benefits.

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