Last year, when the morning of Procession of the Species rolled around, it was chilly, gray, and the forecast called for rain. I won’t lie: there was a debate in our house about whether or not to attend. But as recent transplants to Olympia we wanted to participate in the events that make this area so uniquely fabulous, so we put on rain jackets, parked the car at The Evergreen State College, and took an Intercity Transit bus downtown.

heritage bankIn the annals of our family history, the Procession of the Species will go down as the event at which my son, Stephen, then 4, learned that city buses have numbers that correspond to routes. Over the past year, this has become something of an obsession.

The first thing we noticed when we got downtown was how many people were already there, and what a rich culture exists around this particular event. We live, sadly, in a post-civic society. In most parts of the country, downtown parades have become more inconvenience than destination. We celebrate less. We complain about traffic more. But here, suddenly, the downtown Olympia streets were lined with friendly, happy faces, cheerful boosters ran around passing out sidewalk chalk to kids of all ages (even, thankfully, age 38), and hundreds of people – kids, college students, adults, retirees – pranced around in costumes that ranged from mildly amusing to downright fascinating.

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This two-story-tall giraffe had to duck to get under power lines during the 2015 Procession of the Species. Photo credit: Richard Swanson.

In fact, the costumes had been present on the bus ride down. Being first-timers, we hadn’t dressed up precisely because we were planning to ride the bus. For all of you planning to attend the Procession for the first time this year, leave your self-consciousness at home. Costume up. The bigger the better.

Eyeing the impending rain and fearing the fallout of getting caught in the cold (sick kids = misery = missed work) we found a spot on Legion Way close to the beginning of the Procession of the Species route. That was our left-brain, first timer thinking again, but in this case it served us well.

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Franny and Stephen loved it when this praying mantis paid them a visit. Photo credit: Richard Swanson.

From our spot at the top of the hill, we could see the whole staging area, and it was awesome – like the back lot during a Cecil B. DeMille production. When I ask my daughter, Franny, what she remembers about the Procession, that’s what she remembers. “Before it started we could see so many animals. And everybody was dancing!”

(My son’s answer to the same question? “The 41 bus goes from Evergreen to downtown!”)

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Procession of the Species, it began in 1995 when a group of Olympia folks got together to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Earth Day and to support Congressional renewal of the Endangered Species Act. The founders imagined an event that would celebrate the Earth and would inspire people, of all ages, to take the nurturing and care of our planet seriously. Believing that positive self-expression was important, the organizers established just three rules for participants, which have guided the event ever since: no written words, no live pets, and no motorized vehicles. Beyond that, anything goes.

A free pass to creativity is a hot commodity in a community full of artists. Throughout the year, in workshops at the Procession of the Species studio, production facilities, and garages, South Sounders work to produce colorful creations to populate the Procession route. The event has become a target for school arts programs throughout the area.

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Colorful costumes fill the streets of downtown Olympia during Procession of the Species.

The festivities begin with the Luminary Procession – a lighted march from Capitol Way to the Reflecting Pond, where a spirited bonfire surrounded by drums and joy gets the Earth Day celebration going. This year, the Luminary Procession begins at 9:30 p.m. on Friday, April 22. The Procession itself begins Saturday, April 23, at 4:30 p.m. You can find the Procession route through downtown Olympia here.

But don’t wait until the starting time to get there. Last year, we got on the 41 bus at around 2:00 p.m., and the Procession route was already crowded when we got there. This year, we’ll be leaving closer to 10:00 a.m., in full costume. And with any luck, this year we’ll need to bring sunscreen.

Thrifty Thurston highlights inexpensive family fun in Thurston County. The weekly series focuses on family-friendly activities throughout our community. If you have a suggestion for a post, send us a note at submit@thurstontalk.com. For more events and to learn what’s happening in Olympia and the surrounding area, visit our complete event calendar.

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