There's a huge moon tonight. You would not believe the coyotes - they're yipping and howling like they're auditioning for a Western. The weather's been misty all day long, which is unusual here. There's an eerie halo around the moon and the chill is wet enough to seep into my bones when I step outside. It's October in Eastern Oregon but it feels like February in South Carolina.

I live in a town that packs onions, and it's harvest time. I've been wishing all week long that they'd grow thyme or olives or roses or ANYTHING other than onions. The whole town reeks of onions, onions, onions - a raw sulfurous smell that digs into the back of my throat and forces its way into my sinuses. It makes my lungs burn like I've been smoking a pack a day, and it literally brings me to tears when I open my windows. My apartment is stuffy and hot, but outside there is nothing but onion stink and a shrouded moon and the loneliest noises in the world - trains and coyotes.

I've been thinking a lot about Charleston lately. Impressions, not fully formed thoughts. The olfactory striptease of honeysuckle and wisteria and gardenia, the way the whole earth seems to be perfumed and ripe and flirtatious. The whir of cicadas and the electric surge of gospel choirs. Live oaks dripping with spanish moss.

Eating ourselves sick on fried shrimp and crab so fresh it bit me earlier that day, grabbing beer after beer from the cooler and leaning over old card tables draped with newspaper. The satisfying shatter of claws cracking between our fingers, all of us noisily sucking on every tiny joint and cranny, not missing a morsel of meat, warm juice trickling down our forearms and dripping off our elbows.

Sweat-sheened shoulders and golden legs and everyone so much more beautiful than they ever suspected, the girls in their sundresses and the boys in their khakis. Gin and tonics and barefoot dancing (ever and always barefoot) on arrogantly shabby hardwood decks and those inevitable splinters that earned us pity and an extra beer. Sand everywhere - on floors and seat cushions and between toes and sometimes in our picnic lunches - and no one caring because it's the beach, silly, there's supposed to be sand in everything.

Hammocks. The futility of trying to have sex in a hammock and just giving up and laughing and settling for a cautious snuggle which turns out to be better than sex anyway.

Lazy sweaty days at the beach, stoned on sunshine, watching the glistening sailboarders be effortlessly graceful and the labradors play endless ecstatic rounds of fetch with their people. Driving home sun-drunk and salty with the windows rolled down and the radio turned up.

Pluff mud and marshes, tides and egrets. Dolphins surfing the translucent bottle-green waves and baby sharks trolling the shallows. Water, always water; water the temperature of blood, water that tastes like tears. Water creamy with foam, water amniotic and alive, water that's never the same color twice. I grew up with the ocean in my backyard and now rivers will never be enough.

When my thoughts coalesce into something solid they make me uneasy. They're more questions than thoughts. Is the heart a naturally roaming organ, or can it find a place to rest? What does home mean, and where exactly is it? Does it exist on a map, in a region, in a house? Is home a place or a person? And if it actually is a person, will I be homesick like this forever? When do I stop being a pioneer and start being a settler?

I've been reminding myself that even though there isn't really any good place to be lonely, there are cities cradled by oceans, towns that don't smell of onions. Life is lonely enough; the addition of coyotes and deserts and the occasional distant train whistle is really a bit much.

I don't let myself feel this way very often. Sometimes I get mugged by my past, and tonight I feel tender, bruised by brutal memories I wish I didn't love.

Tonight I miss the South. Her scent, her flavor, the velvet blur of her accent. The way she looks at three o'clock in the morning when she's sleeping, when she doesn't know I am watching her, when she's unaware of her beauty, when moonlight glazes her skies and silvers her ocean and she is achingly, impossibly radiant.

The South is always, always a woman. I'm grieving her like a lost lover.