Editor. Note: Artist Fitz Maurice has set out to paint live at all of the US National Parks. She will be submitting her stories from the road to StuNewsLaguna from time to time.

Fitz’s QUEST 2016: So begins my fourth year painting “live” in each of the 59 American National Parks
There is no place like home for the holidays. Just a few weeks ago the Solo Show of my newest National Park Paintings opened at the Design Studio International Gallery in the Laguna Design Center, and when I asked the audience how many were reading my Stories From The Woods I was thrilled when almost every hand went up! It makes it all worth it, to know that so many of you readers are getting a kick out of my wildlife discoveries and vicariously living through my adventures in our National Parks.
Thank you for your enthusiasm, and now to answer some of your frequent questions:
Yes, I am loving the freedom I feel when immersed in monumental beauty, untouched by man, as mighty as only God can create! Yes, I am loving all of the daily inspiration I am absorbing while surrounded by fresh greens and vibrant fragrances permeating from the lush vegetation. Abundant life is continuously growing and changing while peace fills my ears and penetrates my heart.
No, it is not easy to live with few comforts and be vulnerable to the elements. You must discipline yourself to own and travel with less, including the limitation on water usage. I do not miss shopping or things. The longer I live in nature the more I let go of things. Truly, there is freedom in not being ruled by the constant wanting of more things.
The land of man bombards you with distractions from morning till night. In fact, as you become more deeply connected with nature and your daily life is more involved with the colors of the seasons you simply let go of wanting more man-land things. The most beautiful real things are already all around you!
Your spirit slowly opens up and feels full of what is pure beauty and truth. You feel good – you feel the peace of being a part of the perfect oneness of all creation.
You can be one with nature starting now. Start by listening to the birds that live right around you. Start seeking beauty with your eyes and focus on it rather than
man-land’s concrete, billboards, and commercials.
I feel happier, healthier, calmer and more in tune with the rhythms and rhymes of nature. Nature is nurturing my spirit. I feel its potent healing influence, and the stress from man-land is rinsed away. My greatest comfort is the growing peace that is deeply rooting in my soul. The more I live as my higher self – my spirit – the better the quality my daily life has become. I focus on using my God-given gifts of painting and writing. I am inspired to create because I feel the oneness with all of creation and its pulsating passion for life.

FITZ in N. Cascades N.Park 2015Fitz Maurice on the quest for the Ultimate Scene

Next question: How do I start out on my QUEST once I have landed in a new National Park?
Before ever reaching the park I will have read as much as I can from a variety of sources so that I have a broad overall vision of that particular park.
It is wonderful to take advantage of the brilliant Ken Burns documentary series, The National Parks.
Upon arrival at the National Park, the first place I head for is the Visitors Center. I’ve learned that it is wise to be aware of all of the highlights of the park, and then decide what you want most to experience in the time frame you have. Prioritize and then go for it when the weather is right.
A secret I will share with you: give up your planned list. Go with nature – that’s the secret! For example, if it is sunny the first day you get there, do not kid yourself – just get out in it, with your camera. Often the first day is your best bet. Also, if the day is sunny and hot, seek the shady hike along the river. If the day is very cold, hike in the warmest part of the day, and be back before sunset.
These are examples of what I mean when I share with you how I have learned some things the hard way. It is best to flow with nature; guaranteed, she will not conform to your plans!
After carefully researching a new park, I review weather reports and factor in time limitations. If up in the mountains, it can get dark by 5 p.m. You’d better be back before sundown or it may get so dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face. And it gets colder every 10 minutes after the sun sets.
When I wake up, I feel the day out, checking the weather again for the whole day. Then I decide what direction to take.
Dressing for the entire day of changing weather very often requires layering. Layers of underclothes, shirts, sweatshirts enable you to start in the cool morning air, hike through the full-sun middle of the day, and return in cooling afternoon shadows.
Water is important. Must pack enough water – always!
I pack a whole picnic and some favorite snacks to make it enjoyable through all the different moods of the day, and I often pack a special treat for those miraculous sunset moments. I wear the appropriate hat for that day, considering wind possibilities. I also pack a Red Cross pocketknife, handkerchief, sunblock, chapstick and a whistle.
Setting out on a fresh trail to a new place I have never been before is thrilling to me! Walking out, I am already breathing hard with excitement, my eyes darting everywhere, taking in the particular light of the park – its smells, its mysterious character unfolding step by step. All along the way, I am writing little notes and drawing quick sketches as reminders of the different intriguing scenes. Plus I’m quick with the finger on the trigger of my camera. I’ve learned to be always ready to capture that second when a wild animal makes its sudden appearance.
I will hike, ride a horse, kayak, ride up in a gondola… whatever it takes to get to that Ultimate Scene that beckons my spirit to paint. Planning ahead, I will spend as many days as the park merits on the search, all the while learning about the birds and wildlife that are indigenous.
I am here to learn and grow. This quest has made my life as lovely as being a child again! I am fascinated to witness the geology and formation of the landscape – volcanoes to caves. There is so much to explore by day, not to mention the magical world of the starlit night sky.
Usually what happens is the Ultimate Scene finds me. I’ll be moving along and it will suddenly hit me as I turn the corner or reach the summit: There it is, all laid out before me. Then I embrace the scene by returning to it at different times of the day, studying its nuances, and realizing its personal light.
Finally, I pack up my portable easel and tubes of oil paint, and carry them off to the Ultimate Scene, day after day until the painting takes on the iconic profile and essence that is unique to that National Park.
Once I brought a friend with me when I was on the QUEST and actively searching for the Ultimate Scene. After miles and miles of hiking he said, “I would like to eat now – are we there?” “No,” I replied. “I’m not feeling it yet.” Further and further we went, and then suddenly the view opened up on the pristine ocean cove that inspired me to paint “Utopia, Santa Cruz, Channel Islands National Park, Ca.”
Yes, I am more excited than ever to be saddling up for the QUEST – 2016!
I am heading out to Sequoia National Park to catch some snow. Then I’ll head down to Joshua Tree National Park for some fun in the desert sun.
What National Parks are you going to this year?

FITZ Maurice has been on a quest to paint ‘live’ in every National Park in America. Now totally committed to help promote and protect our American legacy, the artist is traveling by truck and trailer to each park. Hiking, kayaking and horseback riding in search of the ultimate scene, and finally setting up with portable easel and oil paints, FITZ sets out to capture in paint the wonders that make each National Park a treasure to Americans and all the people of the world. 2016 marks her fourth year on the quest.