Welcome to the fourth edition of Remix Features! If this is your first time reading, let me explain: PRX Remix is a curated, randomized, never-ending channel featuring the best stories from podcasts, radio shows, and independent producers. As the Remix curator, I’m constantly adding new work to the mix, which is now more than 3,000 stories strong. This blog series brings you some of my new favorites.
This month, I’m sharing three stories about humans interacting with the natural world. They range from a love story between a man and his donkey as they walk across a continent, to the profile of a photographer who specializes in capturing dilapidated farmhouses, to a story of human navigation before the advent of GPS technology.
“Hoofprints On The Heart” from HumaNature
The backstory here is that Jon Dunham walked from Oregon to the tip of South America. An impressive feat? Absolutely. But I wasn’t convinced that his long walk would make for a great story.
I was wrong. The talented producers of HumaNature, a podcast from Wyoming Public Radio, expertly carved a story out of Jon’s experience. It became a love story between the unlikeliest duo: Jon and a donkey he named Judas. Before joining forces with Judas, no one would approach Jon, a lone gringo walking through foreign land. Once Judas was in the picture, though, everyone was excited to meet Jon and his unusual traveling companion. Judas also served as Jon’s guardian angel, showing him which plants were safe to eat and even protecting him from jaguars encroaching on their campsite at night.
The duo trekked together from Mexico to Brazil and, along the way, even managed to cause a widely reported international incident between Panama and Colombia due to a border crossing snafu. Jon and Judas became inseparable, their remarkable relationship the heart of this story.
Alternatingly funny, profound, and heartbreaking, “Hoofprints On The Heart” delivers a road trip tale unlike any you’ve heard before.
In “Farm Noir,” we join KFAI reporter Britta Greene as she follows Patrick Judd on a unique photoprahy expedition. Judd photographs dilapidated farms with an infrared filter—a peculiar hobby, for sure. He’s a big fan of the film noir aesthetic, so he loves the look of the crumbling farms, the beauty of the manmade structures returning to the earth. He’s also motivated by a profound belief in ghosts.
With each camera snap, feeling equal parts excitement and apprehension, he hopes to catch a glimpse of the farmhouses’ former inhabitants.
Greene does a great job channeling the skepticism a listener might feel by pushing Judd to describe his pursuit of the paranormal in terms everyone can understand, even those who don’t believe in ghosts. We learn that he toils away at his day job during the week, and his extracurricular ghost hunting expeditions give his weekends a sense of purpose.
This is a great example of a short arts feature done well—natural sound, an interesting character, and the added element of mystery.
In today’s world, we take navigation for granted. Roads and trails are marked with extensive signage, GPS spits out directions with the push of a button, and even physical maps and compasses are now ultra-modern. This story from New Hampshire Public Radio’s Outside/In podcast explores the fascinating, and once essential, skill of navigation using nothing but the natural world.
Host Sam Evans-Brown takes us on a serious journey in under 25 minutes. First we go back thousands of years to when the Polynesians first developed the ingenious navigation system at the heart of the story. Then we jump to the 1970s, when the Polynesian’s navigation tradition had almost been lost with time. But, as Evans-Brown puts it, a “hodgepodge of Hawaiian anthropologists and adventurers” banded together to revive the practice. We then take a deep dive into the actual practice of becoming a master navigator using only the natural world. Among many other tactics, it involves learning the position of over 100 stars and measuring your hands against the horizon.
The piece closes by connecting natural navigation to our own lives and the way we think about the world today. Trying to figure out which direction you’re facing at any given moment—without modern tools—is incredibly hard to do in our technology-dominated society. But Evans-Brown asks us to consider what’s lost when we don’t even try.
This is a complicated but well-told story. It feels effortless to listen to, even though there’s many different threads woven in to build the narrative arc. It’s a truly engrossing tale of adventure, tradition, and lessons we can learn from the natural world, if only we paid closer attention. A highly-recommended listen.
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Josh Swartz is the curator of PRX Remix. Email him at email@example.com with questions and suggestions.