What a great time of the year to feast on the beauty of the world around us! I’m enjoying the sunshine and the crisp autumn air. It makes for some great walking weather. And I like bringing some of the beauty of nature home with me. In the spring and summer I pick a few wildflower blooms – if the plants are plentiful – to put in a vase on my desk. In the fall, I like bringing home a colorful leaf or two to brighten up my office. I like taking nature pictures and I’m thankful for a digital camera that lets me snap to my heart’s content without having to think about wasting film. But sometimes the very best way to bring home the beauty is in your memory. When I first started walking in the woods as a young teen, I remember stopping and taking mental pictures of different trees or creeks or beautiful places so that I would always have them in my memory bank. I’d read a story about a man who was a prisoner of war and had kept his sanity by building a house in his mind, imagining each board and each nail as he put the house together. When he got home, he built that house. Now it may seem a stretch from that to taking mental pictures of a beautiful oak tree flaming in the sun, but I was an impressionable youngster with an imagination that sometimes took me down dreary lanes of what ifs. I planned to store up my beauty images in case I someday found myself deprived of the opportunity to view beauty. Thank goodness those dreary what ifs haven’t happened. I’ve lived a blessed life, but I still have those images of beauty in my memory bank and I’ve added lots more. And not just nature shots, but personal images as well. The first sight of my babies. The first time I saw my husband to be. My daughter singing in a Junior Miss contest. My son receiving a scholarship. My other son telling me he was engaged. So many images of the joy of life and some of the sadness too with the nature ones intermingled to keep me grounded. I like using nature in my books. In my first published book I used the fleeting shadow of a bird passing over the character to hint at trouble coming. In my Hollyhill books, I had locust blooms and lilacs, a tornado and a snowstorm that were important to the story lines. In The Outsider the weather was a major obstacle to the men fighting in the War of 1812. I didn’t make that weather up. It was in the history accounts, but my characters had to deal with the heat and then the bitter cold and snow. In The Believer I have Hannah who loves the woods. At the book club I visited last week, some of the readers said that Hannah was one of their favorite characters. So maybe all those mental images I’ve been snapping of this or that nature scene are coming in handy after all. A writer has to use what she’s given along with what she can imagine.The Kentucky Book Fair is this Saturday. Come by and see me if you’re there. I’m in the back row sitting at the same table as Jan Watson. We both love talking to readers. Of course those 200 other writers do, too. So if you come, plan to spend a couple of hours enjoying books. I’ll be on a panel called “Fiction Writers Unite!” with Jan and Karen Robards and Mary Ann Taylor-Hall at 12:30 p.m. That should be fun. Last but not least, keep me in your thoughts and prayers on Friday morning as I’m going to be talking to three classes of high school kids. I’m looking forward to their questions. That’s always my favorite part of any talk I do about writing. I’ll try to remember their most interesting questions to share with you next week.–Hope you have plenty of beauty in your lives this week.