Olympia's annual Procession of the Species inspires wild creativity, but it does have rules

Staff writerApril 26, 2014 

For 20 years, the Procession of the Species has been the quirky and beloved highlight of Olympia’s spring Arts Walk.

Founded by local resident Eli Sterling, the annual ode to the natural world attracts nearly 3,000 marchers and 30,000 spectators of all ages.

Starting near Legion Way and Cherry Street, Saturday’s procession made its way through downtown Olympia and ended at Heritage Park amid a typical spring drizzle. Kids colored the procession’s path with street chalk, and at the cue of the Fish Brewing Co.’s long whistle, the marchers set forth in a stream of papier mâché and cardboard creations — depicting whales, zoo animals, trees and anything in between.

Participants were organized according to their relation to the elements of earth, fire, water and air. The only rules for marchers: no printed words, no live pets and no motorized vehicles.

Annual favorites included the giant anglerfish pulled by Bill Wake and his seahorse helpers. Another highlight was an elephant-size Komodo dragon piloted by Simon Calcavecchia, who said the six-section project — with feet, a head and a body — required 500 hours of labor by 40 people.

Some teenage girls formed a trio of elephants on stilts. They walked past an impressive chimera, which is a fire-breathing lion-lizard-goat monster from Greek mythology. A towering giraffe with nearly a dozen “handlers” dipped its neck down to greet spectators.

Marching in his first procession was Brian Wood, better known as Professor Bamboozle, who wore a costume of a man riding a pink flamingo with a saddle. Wood typically shows off his artistic and magic skills at the Olympia Farmers Market as well as at state and county fairs.

“This is such a kid-friendly event,” he said, shaking the reins while a little girl came up to pet the flamingo’s head. Minutes later, Wood’s getup garnered more chuckles from the sidelines as he marched past.

As the largest group in the procession, Samba Olywa rounded up nearly 70 participants who dressed as endangered golden honeybees. Clad in yellow and black stripes, the dancers marched and shook their stingers to the beats of a drum corps that buzzed close behind.

Every year, Samba Olywa brings up the rear of the procession, always with a different theme. Juli Kelen has been involved with Samba Olywa for 15 years, and said the group spends weeks working on dances and drum routines for the procession.

“This is a great outpouring of creativity,” said Kelen, who praised Olympia’s overall embrace of the arts. “This is an amazingly creative little nexus.”

ahobbs@theolympian.com

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