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03 May, 2014

Procession of the Species Watchers

Urban arboreal species Homo Zacchaeusii

The human species that invented the Procession of the Species probably remains the most interesting to us anthropologists, and this year I enjoyed watching how humans watch parades. Enjoying evidence (see above photo) that despite having evolved enough to create an urban habitat and stainless steel sippy cups, we have not entirely escaped our arboreal origins, or fascination with watching unusual things. Or (cue next photo), with being social, gathering in crowds.

"We don't know you, and do not take orders from kelp."

The actual point of this photo is that anthropologists should shut up and listen. As we rounded a corner, I asked this crowd to take photos (because some synaptic tic of mine makes me want to take pictures of people taking pictures), vainly attempting to manipulate the situation, in clear violation of the Prime Directive. Immediately, most people lowered their cameras; the few people shooting photos in this shot happened not to have heard me.

Hey, I know them!
Professional angst fades quickly in the midst of The Procession, and wasn't even a memory when we rounded the next corner onto 5th Avenue. The street heavily bedecorated by kids and kid-minded adults, the crowd thick to the point of becoming a humanity canyon, drums echoing off Olympia's architecture. I love these blocks on a normal day--eating at Darby's and looking at the Capitol Theater marquee, aroma of the bag of spices I bought next door warming me as much as the coffee--but when it's filled with happy paraders and watchers, it pulses with energy and I'm grinning like an idiot, a blissfully happy idiot. Even happier when I zoom into this photo and see not only a friend and her kids, but off in the distance, another arboreal rebel perched on the marquee in front of "Nirvana Tribute," an event the night before at a place where Nirvana played in the early days. Grin widens.

The anthropologist in me remains just present enough to notice how thousands of people from Olympia and beyond--not knowing each other, maybe allied to different cultural or political or religious values--are all having fun together. Organically and peacefully, they self-organize: kids in front, parents minding kids, strangers making room for each other, and pedestrians passing by behind. Sure, some streets have been blocked off so cars won't ruin the fun, but beyond that, not much in the way of a plan or rules. Yet it all comes off fine, and again the anthropologist is overwhelmed by the grinning primate within.

We hang a left up Washington Street, and again the crowd jumps in magnitude. Mountains of people, spilling into the street and stretching up the lawn and old capitol steps. I cannot even register what individuals are doing, so dumbstruck am I by the numbers, grin slacking down to a dropped jaw. Holy crap. Considering the minisculality of Olympia and the rain coming down, it's amazing how many people are here.

The Watched become the Watchers while the Bees keep Beeing Killer

A half-dozen or so blocks later, somewhere around the finish line, the crowd is thinner, but the Procession does not stop. Many of us who finished first step into the crowd's gaps and watch as the rest of the Species processed on by. Nobody slacking, dancers and drummers going full-bore to the very end. Everyone is soaked, a few costumes are shredding in the rain, but people are happy. Family and friends stationed at the end meet their species, help them out of a costume and under an umbrella, and begin the trek home together.


  1. True Washingtonians learn to dance in the rain, and if we are lucky we can watch. :) I am glad to live in the Olympia area.

  2. Some day, I would LOVE to come to the Parade.