Procession of the Species: World of Wonder

Kate Haefele prepares a walking piece for her first time participating in downtown Olympia's annual Procession of the Species extravaganza.
Kate Haefele prepares a walking piece for her first time participating in downtown Olympia's annual Procession of the Species extravaganza. The Olympian

The Procession of the Species, now in its 16th year, has been attracting national attention. Last year, Reader's Digest named it the best procession or parade in America, and this year, National Geographic awarded it a geotourism designation.

But Saturday’s procession — a parade without words, cars and motorized floats — will be as it has always been, celebrating both the natural world and the spirit of community.

“There’s a tendency for people to shape their events to get tourists,” said Eli Sterling, the procession’s founder. “Procession is always about what it means to be connected, what it means to appreciate the natural world.”

The publicity has attracted more participants this year, and that is expected to mean a bigger crowd gathering to watch them. Sterling said the number of spectators holds steady at 10 times the number of participants.

“The recent publicity has brought more people to participate in the procession, and that will bring more people to watch it,” he said. “We expect 3,000 people to participate and 30,000 to watch it.”

Last year, there were 2,700 participants and about 27,000 spectators.

Because more people will be watching, the folks behind the procession will be giving out extra chalk this year. People are encouraged to use the chalk to draw pictures on the streets while they wait for the procession to come by.

“We’re giving out 9,000 pieces of street chalk, more than we’ve ever handed out before,” Sterling said.

He reminded those who plan to participate in the procession that throwing candy is discouraged. “They have chalk; they don’t need candy,” he said.

One project that reflects procession’s spirit is a flock of Canada geese created by art students at Tumwater High School. The students, led by artist and teacher Jennifer Combe, have been creating geese with rattan frames and papier-mache exteriors.

“The students are in groups creating these geese,” she said. She has about 120 art students working on the geese, each of which will be 3 feet in diameter. The completed birds — which might number anywhere from 10 to 40 — will be carried on bamboo poles.

The project doesn’t just require cooperation among the students. It also represents the spirit of working together to get things done, inspired by the geese themselves. The teamwork concept is used by many organizations, including Outward Bound, and by the school’s football coach, Sid Otton.

“I really try to find a way to bring students to the arts who might not see the connection,” Combe said.

“When geese fly, they rely on the wind to work together. Geese honk to keep up the spirits of the other geese. And if a goose is shot down or falls, two other geese will go down with it until it’s ready to fly again.”

Sterling sees the procession and its participants in a similar fashion.

“The procession is completely oriented towards the success of this community, not to the success of the tourism industry,” he said. “Yet we have people coming from all over the state because of that.”