Kuriositas has an amazing pictorial post on Puzzlewood, a very old and beautiful English forest that was Tolkien's inspiration for middle Earth. I've never been there but it looks like storyteller heaven.
I think most writers include real life places and experiences as part of their stories; I certainly do. In Nightshine my protagonist Charlie Marena sports a turtle tattoo, which seems an odd choice (not very exciting, I suppose) until you know the story behind it.
Growing up by the sea as a kid exposed me to many neat things, such as our annual treks to Dania Beach whenever the loggerhead turtle nests started to hatch. Our entire community would go down at night to herd the babies. The hatchlings would often get confused and head up the beach toward the lights of highway A1A, which were brighter than the moon that was supposed to guide them to the ocean.
Baby loggerheads are fast -- like lightning -- and hundreds come out of the nest at the same time. One year when we went it seemed like all the nests were hatching at once, and we had to run back and forth for hours. I know it must have been hot, sticky, exhausting work, but all I remember is how much fun it was to see the little ones as they skittered over that last margin of wet sand into the waves.
These days I hear they make people go on turtle watch tours or keep them off the beaches when the nests hatch, and while that's probably for the best I feel sorry for the generations of children who will never have the experience I did. Being involved, even in a small part, in a nature rescue effort has a profound effect on a youngster, and helps shape positive attitudes toward wildlife preservation.
Thanks to my childhood memories I've always been fond of turtles, and like most of the things that mean a lot to me they were bound to show up in my fiction. In Nightshine the turtle tattoo Charlie sports has a logical meaning tied into the story and the worldbuilding, but also helped as a prompt to remind me of the qualities I wanted to invest in her as well as what she means to me.
Have you writers out there ever used a particular memory in this way to inspire your fiction? Let us know in comments.