At the 17th annual Procession of the Species, you can see some unexpected species marching and dancing through downtown Olympia.
Among them: bats, manatees, octopi, skunk cabbage – and teenagers.
“There’s a different energy out there,” said Procession organizer Eli Sterling. “The biggest change is that we’re not seeing just parents with kids at the studio. We are seeing lots of teenagers and people in their 20s.
“It is really amazing. We’ve had our relevance affirmed.”
The procession’s human-powered celebration of creativity and the natural world includes floats, bands, dancers, windsocks and a whole lot of papier-mché and batik. It is divided into four elements: earth, air, water and fire (for mythological or extinct species). Procession organizers say it regularly draws 2,000-3,000 participants and 10 times as many spectators who pack the sidewalks of downtown Olympia.
Unlike organized parades in the area, the procession encourages people to participate, not just watch. If you feel inspired to march, no planning is required. Just figure out what animal, plant or natural force you want to represent and show up at the registration table on Saturday. For spectators, there’s a lot of sidewalk chalk and a limited number of musical shakers, both handed out about a half-hour before the procession begins.
The festivities – which coincide with Olympia’s spring Arts Walk (see related story) – begin tonight with the Luminary Procession, which celebrates the element of spirit.
This year, the event will include two simultaneous performances by fire spinners and illuminated dancers, plus a lot of live music, including a flute performance by Daniel Buscher that will be amplified across the lake during the closing ceremony.
“We’re following the theme from the Illuminated Ball with bats and crystals,” Sterling said. “We’re going to have an entrance cave for people to walk through when they reach the lake shore.”
The 25-foot tunnel also will appear in the main procession, rolling through the streets while people in bat costumes flit through it.
Also winging through the streets Saturday night will be flocks of crows and ravens, peacocks and killdeers, the latter created by the Black Hills Audubon Society.
“The killdeers are on poles that will put them up to 14 to 16 feet high,” Sterling said. “They’ll do a movement piece with Planet Percussion.”
Then there are the flowers, ranging from such traditional beauties as lilies, a wild rose and a daffodil, to the skunk cabbage, the latest creation by Shari Trnka , the artist who created many of the giant flowers that are perennial favorites in the procession.
“I love skunk cabbage because in the late winter forest, one of the first signs of spring are these beautiful yellow flowers,” said Trnka of Oakville. “They get maligned because the plant is kind of stinky. It’s an underdog flower.”
There also will be a lot of normally aquatic species making their way along the meandering 15-block route from Legion and Cherry to Heritage Park.
Among them: a pair of manatees, a giant razor clam surrounded by dancing clamdiggers, and a life-sized orca.
The Samba Olywa dance troupe will be headed under the sea this year as well. Numbering about 150 dancers and drummers, the group is itself a force of nature. This year, all members will be dressed as octopi.