Thousands flood downtown Olympia for 16th annual Procession of the Species

OLYMPIA – Thousands of people went wild during Saturday's 16th annual Procession of the Species in a display of color, music and the natural world that is uniquely Olympia.

People who were dressed as birds, tigers and sea life danced, pranced and prowled to the beat of drums and the cheers of spectators young and old who watched from sidewalks, the rooftops or the shoulders of their parents.

Three thousand marchers and 30,000 spectators were expected to attend, according to organizer Earthbound Productions.

“The music is wonderful,” said Emily Carlson of Woodinville, who was visiting friends and family in the area. “It has a good, festive spirit.”

Atop her shoulders was her 4-year-old son, Johan, dressed as a lion. Nearby, her husband, Glenn, had a monkey – er, their 2-year-old son, Erik – on his back.

Carlson’s aunt, Connie Fleming of Olympia, said she has attended all but one of the processions. She praised the celebration for raising awareness about the environment and building community spirit through the work of residents who spend weeks and months preparing their costumes and floats. She noted the procession has spread to other communities.

“It’s just really cool that it all got started in Olympia,” she said.

The procession was a menagerie of not only animals, but sights and sounds. Marchers gave a wide berth to the towering pink elephant controlled by more than a half-dozen people, including an operator for its tail. White birds flew around a nest where young ones rested. A giant papier-mache alligator lumbered down the street and moved menacingly toward some in the crowd, its mouth open.

Joe Hein, a student at The Evergreen State College, joined about two dozen classmates dressed as tigers in recognition of the Chinese calendar identifying 2010 as the Year of the Tiger. Hein watched the festivities last year but decided it was time to walk on the wide side during the popular celebration.

“The whole town gets behind it, or at least a large enough amount of people to make it a huge event,” he said.

Emily Weisberg, an Evergreen student who has participated in the procession in Bellingham, marched in her third Olympia celebration. She and her boyfriend, Nathan Schuur, dressed as banana slugs.

A self-described nature lover, Weisberg said, “It makes me really happy when I see a large number of other people who are, too.”Weisberg planned to dance. Asked how a banana slug dances, she replied: “I don’t really know. I haven’t figured it out yet.”

In the end, they all did.

Christian Hill: 360-754-5427chill@theolympian.comwww.theolympian.com/outsideoly