On Sunday morning, Tarik Gilbert was trying out his bright green forelegs in the parking lot of Waterfall Arts. The whole thing had started out as an ant, but people had looked at him and seen a mantis. So he'd switched to a praying mantis, which was sort of cool, he reasoned, because that's a Kung Fu style.

Nearby, Rita Buckley was beaming. She was also a tree. Dry brown shoots sprouted from a crown on her head. Her body was mostly hidden beneath a woody trunk. What kind of tree? Two different kinds, she said.

There was a trash monster and a giant earthworm. People wore crowns of black flies. It was either a circle of Hell unknown to Dante because he never lived in Maine or the makings of a parade in Belfast.

Only in Belfast, right?

Yes. But there were also flowers, fish, birds and butterflies. A marching band played "You are my Sunshine" to an overcast sky that paused its May-flower-making business long enough for the parade to pass. There were plenty of humans, too, and Mother Earth herself, because it was Earth Day, or close enough in geologic time.

Sunday's parade was part of a larger slate of events organized by Earth Days Waldo County that started on Wednesday, April 22, the date officially designated as Earth Day, and continued well into the afternoon on Sunday.

It also served as debut for Willow Cordes-Eklund, whose puppet-making workshops turned this year's Earth Day parade from a homespun community jaunt into a major spectacle, without losing the homespun or community aspects.

Cordes-Eklund worked with puppets in the Minneapolis area for 25 years. She was involved with Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre — a group that has roots going back to the mid-'70s and was inspired by giant papier-mâché mask pioneers, Bread and Puppet Theater. She moved to Maine five years ago and spent the last two thinking about starting her own puppet-making group but wasn't sure how it would go over.

"I grew up in a puppet community," she said. "I thought no one would get it."

Earlier this year, she opened With Breath Puppetry in an upper floor space in the Masonic Building downtown and signed on for the Earth Day parade. At the first brainstorming session, 40 people showed up.

It was encouraging, and not just for Cordes-Eklund. Some longtime event-makers and activists in the group told her they were surprised by the number of new faces. For once it wasn't just the usual suspects. People had come from all around Waldo County. They were all ages.

"The response was amazing," Cordes-Eklund said. "People were really into it."

The group collectively came up with the rough story for the parade and made the puppets and costumes at a series of workshops using materials that would have been recycled in a less interesting way, or just thrown out.

From local businesses, they got donations of cardboard, bicycle tubes, all manner of useable cast-offs, or in some cases permission to raid the recycling bin.

"Paint came from people's basements; fabrics came from people's attics," Cordes-Eklund said.

A month later, the group had the makings of a grand presentation about the Earth's ecosystem, viewed through a split lens of science and folklore. The aforementioned trash monster led the parade, followed by people sweeping garbage under a raised patch of rug. Trash-foraging crows — a symbolic link between humans and nature — came next, tailed by ghostly mourners whose tears flowed into a river that teemed with fish and insects. A cluster of flowers and butterflies surrounded the Mother Earth puppet. And bringing up the rear, as in life, were the earthworms, or in this case the one giant earthworm, held aloft on poles like a naked Chinese dragon.

As puppetry goes, Cordes-Eklund said she likes this kind of large-scale pageantry the best, as compared to, say, a marionette show. The form plays well to all ages and levels of experience, and Cordes-Eklund said it's playful enough that some topics that might be complex or confrontational go down a little easier.

She acknowledged that a spectator might not catch all the messages embedded in the Earth Day parade story, but the celebration would be evident, she said, and if people picked up on the other parts, that was good, too. She summed up the idea as "transforming community through creative expression."

The parade snaked through town to the water at Steamboat Landing Park. After a little music, some of the costumed characters dispersed. Volunteers folded the puppets into themselves. Cordes-Eklund thanked everyone within earshot. As soon as her voice died away, she slipped back into the crowd of people, animals, plants, trash monsters; players in something bigger, and more complex, than any one of them.