Savage man's videos make critters stars Barny the flying squirrel carries lead role in backyard productions NORTH LAUREL/SAVAGE

November 27, 1992|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Staff Writer

You've heard of the Birdman of Alcatraz? Well, Carleton Arnold is the Flying Squirrel man of Savage.

With country music, sunflower seeds and his video camera, the 62-year-old Savage resident has charmed the wildlife living in his wooded back yard, particularly the flying squirrels.

The nocturnal squirrels are the stars of Mr. Arnold's homemade nature videos, which have become popular among his Savage neighbors.

Mr. Arnold, 62, named his lead squirrel "Barny" and has completed two videos featuring Barny and his friends -- "Barny I" and "Barny II."

"They seem to like people," Mr. Arnold says of the squirrels. "I'll turn on a little country music and here they come."

Mr. Arnold began filming about two years ago when his family gave him a video recorder for his birthday.

A heart attack and bypass surgery in 1989 had left him weak and depressed. His surgery made it difficult for him to walk with his crutches, which he began using after his right leg was severed below the knee in an accident with a circular saw 30 years ago.

"He had gotten to the point where he didn't do anything," said his daughter, Corrinne. "He barely got up to eat half the time."

Mr. Arnold said the video camera got him out of bed and gave him a new hobby.

"I was sitting out on the porch and discovered these little flying squirrels, and we got to be really good buddies," said Mr. Arnold, who usually videotapes the squirrels in the early morning hours.

"Barny I" opens with a shot of Mr. Arnold on his back porch. Patsy Cline's "Crazy" plays in the background. "Howdy. Welcome to the back porch," Mr. Arnold says.

"These little flying squirrels are looking for sunflower seeds and peanut butter. Why don't we go out and take a look at them."

The tape continues with shots of the squirrels gliding down from the trees to eat the treats on the back porch while Mr. Arnold provides narration.

"Say Barny, how you doing?" Mr. Arnold says to his favorite squirrel. Barny is recognizeable because his left ear is cut.

The squirrel tapes began to make the rounds in Savage when Mr. Arnold's wife, Jan, the local mail carrier, dropped some off in friends' mailboxes.

Soon, "they started getting passed around and people would call and say 'who's got the video today,' " said Corrinne.

"They're very loving, caring videos," said neighbor Billie Specht, who has two of Mr. Arnold's tapes. "I think the animals really know him."

Mr. Arnold has received many notes from people who have enjoyed his videos. Billie and Charlie Specht even sent money to pay for sunflower seeds and peanut butter for the squirrels.

Alice Baldwin, a Barny fan, says her favorite video features the heroic squirrel going off to fight in Desert Storm.

In the tape, Barny sits in a red fighter plane, with an American flag attached to the back. He eats sunflower seeds as Whitney Houston's version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" blares in the background.

Mr. Arnold made the plane out of a bucket. "You wouldn't believe how many takes this took me," Mr. Arnold says.

"He kept jumping out of the bucket."

In the video, footage from a war movie doubles as the Persian Gulf war and CNN's star correspondent, Peter Arnett, also appears, reporting from Baghdad. These images are interspersed with shots of fighter pilot Barny.

Mr. Arnold uses two VCRs to edit his footage and also has a mixer.

Although he has a soft spot for Barny, Mr. Arnold doesn't limit his cast to squirrels.

Charlie the snake, Lucille the blue heron, fish, birds and Mr. Arnold's two dogs, Dink and Captain, also make cameo appearances in his films.

Mr. Arnold himself even turns up riding through the woods on his all-terrain vehicle, his ponytail and a confederate flag blowing in the breeze.

During the winter months, Mr. Arnold plans to edit about 50 hours of nature footage into another video, possibly Barny III.

"I just enjoy them so much," he said. "They've been with me a long time."

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