by | Oct 9, 2022

“The weather is unpredictable. Be prepared,” the voice on the radio announced into the gray morning as I drove west from southeastern North Carolina. Hurricane Ian was taking aim at the South Carolina Coast and the area I was leaving was under a tropical storm warning. The light rain that was falling when I woke was growing heavier. Schools had been closed, as had most businesses. Traffic was light, but still unpredictable. Like the weather. My plan was to make the four-hour drive back home before the predicted heavy rain and high winds arrived in Yancey County.

I was not surprised when the forecast changed as I drove west. My relationship with weather these days has become more like a long marriage – comfortable with the unpredictability.

Before moving back to the NC mountains in 1992, my relationship with weather had been more of a casual dalliance. Before the move I lived in a little house on the South River near Annapolis, Maryland, where Hurricane Gloria threatened to shred my little cottage into pick-up sticks a month after I moved into the house. Although City Dock flooded, my patch of earth remained intact. Weather was only a passing concern when I joined friends on their boats – I was there to play and crew, with no responsibilities for maintenance.

It was not until I moved into my house in the woods of Yancey County that I developed an intimate relationship with weather in 1993. That was when I realized my dream of growing a large garden, and that’s when the weather became my obsession. It was a lot like falling in love: my last thought before sleep, weather; first thought when I woke, weather. I constantly checked forecasts, the Old Farmer’s Almanac, radio, television.

“A drought will scare you to death, but a flood will ruin you,” a neighbor wisely observed. I lived in fear of both.

Fascinated, frightened, constantly planning how to respond, I watched the sky, felt the slightest breeze, noticed a rise in temperature, a drop in barometric pressure. I plotted and planned, knowing it was all out of my control. Unpredictable. But essential.

April may be the cruelest month, but October in an election year is arguably the most unpredictable month of the year. October Surprise. It’s still hurricane season, but more importantly, it’s the month before the early November election, the last few weeks that candidates have to make their case to voters. Although mostly associated with presidential elections, the October Surprise is usually defined as any late breaking news that upends an election. Think Jimmy Carter in 1980, Hillary Clinton in 2016.

If I had to choose just one word to describe this life, it would be “unpredictable.” On any given day there are dozens of other words and a handful of metaphors that also would provide an accurate description. But “unpredictable” is the constant. Unpredictable is also another of the COVID pandemic’s lessons. The virus was, and remains, unpredictable.

A poet I met this summer said that she begins her morning journal writing with the words: “I am here. Anything can happen.”

Carter’s failed re-election bid was all but assured when he announced that the American hostages being held in Iran would not be released before the election. Of course there were numerous other factors at play in the election that Ronald Reagan won. But it was Reagan’s campaign that used the phrase “October Surprise.” They feared that Carter would find a way to bring the hostages home before the election, an act they told news sources would be a blatant political ploy to win votes. But there has always been speculation that it was Reagan’s campaign that conspired with the Iranians to keep the hostages until after the election. That speculation has never been proven, but minutes after Reagan’s inauguration, the hostages were released.

By September 2016, Hillary Clinton was the presumptive winner of the presidential election. Then in October, 10 days before the November election, the FBI announced that it was investigating Clinton’s staff’s use of a private server for emails. The bombshell had the effect of changing the trajectory of the campaign, and Clinton never recovered the momentum.

Now, six years later, we’re facing another election year and the outcome is far from certain. Will an “October Surprise” materialize and upend the election? Unpredictable.

Here’s a short poem from my latest poetry collection, When There Were Horses (Main Street Rag, 2021).


in the hour or so it took to savor
chicken marsala, toast to our good fortune –
a stolen mid-week lunch – and empty
our glasses of Malbec, winter slammed
into these mountains. Unprepared,
we pulled our light jackets tight, ducked
and hunched as we shivered our way
across the parking lot. The rain, an all day
symphony, abated. Red, yellow, brown leaves
slicked the asphalt. Late roses flaunted
battered blooms. Above us, a sparrow
swayed on the telephone line,
fluffed its feathers and sang.
We held hands all the way home.


  1. Elizabeth Holden

    Your poem ” Suddenly” Is a very nice fit to your essay on the unpredictable. It’s a lovely way to bring your thoughts to a close. It helps one to experience and feel what is involved in the word change. Thank you, Pat

    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      Thank you, Betty. I always enjoy reading your insights.

  2. Bill Griffin

    You’ve woven so many unpredictables into an almost comforting shawl then surprised us at the end with that sparkling poem. Thanks, Pat.
    I do wonder — our hominid psyche always seeking patterns, ever from shadows and movement creating something recognizable, when every day is unpredictable and the next hour even more unknowable than usual where do we find a path forward?

    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      Ah, the often elusive path forward! I’ve found it is not usually a straight line. Sometimes that path forward is liquid, like a river, going over or around impediments. Or maybe the path forward is the seeking, the desire to create something recognizable. I like the way your mind works, cuz!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.