Olympia's Procession of the Species has influenced a generation

Contributing writerApril 25, 2013 


    What: The 19th annual procession celebrates the natural world with music, art and dance. Spectators can create chalk art in the streets before the procession.

    When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday

    Where: Downtown Olympia. Registration begins at 3:30 p.m. Participants assemble on Legion Way and Cherry Street between Jefferson and Chestnut, and the parade route, which ends at Heritage Park, is on the Arts Walk map available free at local businesses and The Olympia Center.

    Admission: Free. Participants are asked to donate two cans of food to the Thurston County Food Bank. Spectators also are encouraged to donate a can. Donations can be dropped off at the registration table at Jefferson and Cherry.

    More information: 360-705-1087, procession.org

    Also: No motorized vehicles, except wheelchairs; no live animals, except service animals; and no printed words are permitted. Procession organizers ask that no candy be thrown.


    What: The procession before the procession celebrates the element of spirit.

    When: 9:30 Friday night

    Where: Begins on Washington Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues, Olympia; proceeds to Capitol Lake

    Information: 360-705-1087, procession.org

    Also: This event is weather-dependent because the luminary art can’t withstand heavy rain. But so far, the weather forecast is for sunny and 72 on Friday.

The aim of Procession of the Species – Olympia’s wildly colorful and creative celebration of nature and community – is to create a lasting change in the way people view their place in the world.

“We hope to affect the hearts and the minds of a generation,” said Eli Sterling, the event’s founder. He figured it would take 20 years to make that happen.

On Saturday, the flora and fauna of the 19th procession – including a whale, a sea slug, huge flowers, a virus and a really big pack of wolves – will traverse their way through downtown Olympia.

There’ll be music, chalked images on the streets and the best people watching of the year.

And, yes, a lot of inspiration for the future: If 14-year-old Wren Brastow is any indication, Sterling is achieving his goal.

“It’s a celebration of life and the creative spirit,” said Brastow, a freshman at Black Hills High School.

Brastow has been in the procession every year of her life. At 3 months, she was in a baby sling and wearing bear ears. At 3 years, she was dressed as a bat – the first costume she made herself. At 5, she was a turtle hitching a ride on the back of the wheelchair of another turtle, the late Carl Riddels, who needed a counterweight to balance his shell.

But Brastow isn’t just an avid participant in Olympia’s Earth Day ritual. She’s also a longtime volunteer who remembers helping others with their costumes well before she started school.

“Her first time out of the house, when she was 5 days old, was for a procession organizing meeting,” said Laura Killian, Brastow’s mom, who has been involved in 17 of the 19 processions.

Leading up to this year’s procession, Brastow and Killian worked two shifts a week helping people settle into the Procession art studio and answering their questions. They also teach workshops on papier-mâché.

“When new people show up to the studio, she gives the best tours,” said longtime volunteer Shari Trnka, who designs the procession’s much-larger-than-life flowers.

“It surprises me when people from this area don’t know what the procession is,” Brastow said. “I want to spread the procession – to get it as far and wide as possible.”

Her dedication has led people to start saying that some day she’ll be in charge of the beloved annual event.

“Hey, I would totally take over the procession,” Brastow said. “I think it’s a running joke because the first time I heard it, I was really enthusiastic.” The job of directing procession isn’t open, but that’s OK with Brastow. She has a backup career goal.

“I’ve been considering taking a job in civil politics,” she said. “Some people just don’t see the value in the procession because ‘Oh, you’re not making money.’ We don’t want to make money. We just want to make art, learn and create.

“I’d like to do something to change people’s views.”

Last week, she wasn’t yet sure what she’d be doing in the 19th procession – perhaps helping to carry a giraffe or a sea slug.

“I like making my own things,” she said, “but sometimes volunteering or school gets in the way.”

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