On walkabout from the cafe, tired of city lights, Ma, the shaman, catches a bus from the downtown station to the end of the line. Here, Ma runs with emus through the red desert dust and eats bush cucumbers in full fruit.
After absorbing electricity from lightning, she flies with the magpies to places of desire, waterholes of power, canyons where cave dwellers recorded their first Dreamings. She descends to a land inhabited by tiny rock sprites who bow to the shaman's journey and beg to honor her wish. For inspiration, Ma requests the creation of a sand painting.
To step into this Dreaming, she must follow a recipe from the beginning, sung in the beginning, for the beginning, through the end loop of time and back again. The woman of high degree must listen to the wind songs, touch the southern tip of heat lightning and study the angular stick figures in the Southern Cross. Ma climbs naked to the top of a boulder, stands on one leg, spear at her side, unmoving until the sacred painting song rises in her vision quest.
The tiny sprites nip at her ankle and tickle her toes as she reaches out fingertips to absorb power from the stars. Ma smiles at the sprite children who hunt for rock mice, chatter, and sing simple songs that bounce from the rock, whirl around her ears, echo into her meditation and almost drown out the voices from sacred songs on the wind. Ma contemplates the crackle of distant cinders, the smoky fires of primitive campsites.
In slow time, the woman of high degree hears the colors and vibrations from the painting song, listens for its rhythm, its balance, a promise of short dots or long stripes, mosaics and emu feathers. She dusts herself with fine sand and prepares to paint the song with the help of the tiny ones.
Ma clears and flattens the earth. She finds a termite stack, sparks fire underneath to release the termites and awaits the sprites. They play with the termites and run up, down, around and through the stack, hammering the walls with little fists, until it crumbles into termite dust and iridescent wings, ingredients for the basic ground canvas.
Ma prepares eight separate holes in the earth where she places gypsum for white dots, yellow and red ochre from earth dust, charcoal for black stick figures, finely chopped gum leaves, stems and daisy flowers for collage, and cockatoo feathers for the final touch. She takes a stick and slices open her leg, catching her thick blood in a chunk of bark - the palette, the glue,the pulp, the base for the paint.
In slow outback time, Ma crouches and paints, paints and crouches, bends, stands, moves around the sand circle, approaches at angles, throws in essence of heat lightning, power of crushed daisies and termite wings. She asks the rock sprites for an opinion and they crouch, bend, stand, move around the sand circle, approach at angles and hear the stories from the mix of heat lightning, crushed daisies and termite wings.
The sprite children run across the sand painting, impressing the termite powder with handprints from hand stands and prints from their tiny feet. They throw in sweet essence of crushed yellow wattle, red bottle brush flowers, marrow of childish ways and playful rapture captured within colored stones gathered from far away rivers.
Ma waits. The painting receives them well, takes their play and grows radiant. Ma looks to the night skies and breathes deep, drinking in the great breadth of unchanged infinity. The sprites finish their work and wait for the shaman's reaction. They tilt their heads to the side, view the painting from the north, tilt their heads to the south, to the west, to the east. They take the hands of the shaman of high degree and invite her to dance around this sand painting that has allowed them freedom to play, to create, to collage the joys of story.
Their dance circles the painting. They sing to the canvas and offer a mouthpiece for its stories. The sprites dance with Ma who laughs with them, laughs loud, her laughter echoing down the currents of the Dreamtime. After nights and days, sunrise and sunset, Ma faces east, gives the sign of the Southern Cross, one arm stretched to the heavens, one pointed to the soil, both feet planted on red earth.
The sprites run into the circular canvas and around the sand painting. They run through its patterns, tear out emu feathers, rip through charcoal stripes, tear up white cockatoo down and salvage termite wings.
Ma stands on one leg, spear at her side, wind at her back, and emerges from the Dreaming. She climbs down the boulder, takes two pieces of charcoal, rubs them together and, with the spark, lights a cigarette. She inhales deeply, leans against a rock, closes her eyes and allows her body to soften.
The rock sprites toss termite wings around her, and vanish into the boulders, until the next time the shaman invites them into her dreaming.