Did you see the species?

OLYMPIA - A whirling mix of color, music and motion twisted its way along downtown Olympia Saturday afternoon. ( Watch the Procession of the Species )

Icicles danced. Blazing flames swirled streamers high above their heads. And creatures as large as polar bears and as small as bumblebees moved to the rhythm of tinkling cymbals and booming drumbeats as the 13th annual Procession of the Species curled through the city.

"I like the way people express art and are celebrating life," Louanne Bay said, carrying a giant lily pad to accompany the frog costumes of her 9-year-old daughter's North Thurston Public Schools Girl Scout troop 458. "I think that's beautiful."

The annual Procession celebrates the Earth and its elements, as well as a sense of community.

According to Olympia police estimates, at least 3,500 spectators watched the event Saturday. Some perched on rooftops. Others stood on stools to catch a better view. Many bobbed their heads to the music and let out cheers as their favorite attractions approached.

"I like that thing right there! That monster!" squealed 7-year-old Darien Ryan, standing up and pointing to a papier-mache float with an eel poised to gobble up a fish.

Darien watched the Procession from atop his family's van, an annual tradition with his mom,

Corrine Wasmundt of Olympia, and two siblings.

"We enjoy it all," Wasmundt said. "We come every year, rain or shine. Some years, it's been pouring."

But the weather cooperated Saturday, with partly sunny skies and temperatures around 60 degrees.

Those conditions were a perfect mix for newcomers such as Olympia resident Janie Stover to experience Procession for the first time.

Stover recently moved to South Sound from California and decided to walk in the event with her 4-year-old neighbor Adam Mikler.

"I heard this is a big part of Olympia's culture," she said.

Stover strapped a colorful butterfly costume to her back and a yellow bee outfit to Adam.

"I could probably sting you," he warned those who walked nearby.

Wearing an orange fish hat on his head and a cape covered in a school of fish, Olympia resident Marc Toye walked in Procession for the second time. He came with his wife, Lana, who draped herself in a flowing, head-to-toe jellyfish costume, and their 6-year-old granddaughter Katelynn Helton, who wore a sparkling, blue mermaid outfit.

"I love the whole spirit of the thing, being in Olympia and having this many people all gather to celebrate one issue," Toye said. "This is a great way to celebrate the natural world in which we live."

Toye said he and his wife also thought Procession would be a positive experience for Katelynn, who uses a wheelchair.

"We thought, 'Let's help her participate and be a part of the community and not just sit on the sidelines,' " Toye said.

The community's engagement in Procession is one of Jay Sicilia's f avorite parts about the event. Sicilia, director of the

Olympia-based Planet Percussion, was dressed in red with orange and yellow flames dancing on his shirt and painted on his face.

"Some of the kids may have been afraid before to try this or try that, and this opens their eyes that maybe they can play a rhythm," Sicilia said. "It encourages people in the audience to get involved."

Heather Woodward writes for The Olympian. She can be reached at 360-754-4225 or Birth of procession of the species

The idea for Procession of the Species began in January 1995, when a group of Olympia residents decided to create an event to celebrate both the 25th anniversary of Earth Day and to support the congressional renewal of the Endangered Species Act, according to the event's Web site.