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Roadrunners inspire Ohio State grad to derail from the trail

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Coyote Peterson interacts with a fly. Credit: Chelsea Spears / Multimedia editor

Coyote Peterson interacts with a fly in Blendon Woods Metro Park Aug. 27.
Credit: Chelsea Spears / Multimedia editor

The water of the pond is placid; the lily pads that rest upon it glisten in a cool summer breeze, but the air remains hot. Tall grass surrounds the jagged shore at the water’s edge, obscuring an almost untouched forest. Silence pervades all, except for the chirping of an unknown bird and the whirring of odd dragonflies that seem to skip along the surface. 

Suddenly, muted ripples rustle through the vegetation, and an iconic leather hat emerges from the obscuring weeds. 

Without warning, the hat and the man attached to it spring through the air, and the still surface breaks with a splash as he lands amongst the pads — hands outstretched, grasping for an unknown quarry. The hat emerges again, somehow still attached to its owner, who curses under his breath. 

The prey has escaped, and only as it rushes away can it now be seen — it’s a large water snake that’s several feet long. 

This hat does not belong to the protagonist from some ‘80s adventure movie — it belongs to Nathaniel “Coyote” Peterson, an Ohio State graduate, filmmaker and developer of the new online show called “Breaking Trail,” which he said premieres Sept. 15 on Discovery Digital’s Animalist network. The series is set to release more than 100 pieces of content related to Peterson’s adventures over a 16-week span, he said. 

As a child, Peterson traveled through much of the United States. His favorite pastime, he said, was watching, stalking and catching animals, and he explained that his nickname, “Coyote,” was coined by his mother. 

“My mom, she had a really flexible job, and she was able to take off months at a time during the summer. We had an old Chevy Suburban and an old trailer, and she would cart us across the U.S. and we would just stay in random places,” Peterson said. “I used to follow roadrunners around, because they eat horned lizards. And because I was following the roadrunners, she started calling me her little coyote — like from the Warner Brothers’ cartoon.” 

Peterson attended OSU from 2000 to 2005. His original plan was to major in business, but it didn’t take long for him to realize his true calling was in filmmaking.

“It was tough, because OSU didn’t really have too much of a film program back then. I went to my counselors and I said, ‘I want to make movies,’” he said.

Although OSU didn’t have the exact program he was looking for, Peterson said his advisors helped him create his own major.

“Here’s what I think is one of the coolest things about OSU: They couldn’t provide me the major that I wanted, but they had all the pieces, but it was scattered. So they let me design a personalized study program,” he said.

Soon after he changed his major, Peterson helped create “Kollege,” one of the first shows for BuckeyeTV (now Lantern TV, part of The Lantern Media Group). He also co-founded Buckeye Searchlight, then a screenwriting competition that resulted in a full-length movie filmed on OSU’s campus.

Years later, Peterson has resurrected his old moniker, “Coyote,” for a new kind of wildlife program. “Breaking Trail” brings viewers within striking distance of various animals for a closer look at nature.

“It’s tough these days to get peoples’ attention, you know? If I said to you, ‘Hey, you know what? Six buddies and I snared an alligator, wrapped up its jaws and I sat on in and talked about it,’ you’d say, ‘Oh, that’s cool, I’ve seen a lot of people do that,’” Peterson laughed. “What you probably haven’t seen is a 150-pound dude jump on a 300-pound alligator and hold it by himself. And let that animal keep its mouth open and stay natural for the cameras. I’ve got the animal under enough control where my camera guys are literally, like, 2 feet away from this thing, so they’re still in the danger zone.”

Mark Laivins, director and producer of “Breaking Trail,” said besides breaking the traditional animal show mold, the show is locally sourced, so everyone working with Peterson is based in Columbus.

“We’re all really excited that we’ve been able to do this from Columbus. Everybody who’s working on the show is Columbus-based, except our managers with Discovery — everybody from the audio guys to the graphics guys,” Laivins said.

James Williams is the executive producer of Animalist, the Discovery Digital network that will host “Breaking Trail.” He said the show is tailored to an online format, something that hasn’t been done before. 

“I don’t know of anybody else who’s approaching nature in the digital space like this,” Williams said. “What we’re trying to do is talk about natural history in a different way and in a way that appeals to a digital audience.”

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