ROANOKE – For 18 years, Tom Durand has watched the battle between heaven and hell play out on two pieces of wood he cut from the same log.
He believes they are gifts from God sent in answer to a prayer.
"I am the typical Joe Blow next door. I like to drink a beer. I like to watch karate fights," said the 56-year-old father of seven and husband of 36 years. "My wife is an Apostolic (Christian) and I do my best to go with her and my kids to church every Sunday, but I am not a member."
But Durand has called on God a time or two when he came to forks in the road of life and choosing a path "weighed heavy on my heart."
"I asked God for a sign and even though I know he's listening to me, for him to give me a sign is just humbling," he said.
Even more astonishing is because wood conveyed the answer for Durand, a woodcutter by trade.
The sign appeared as he was sawing a large log. As he sliced the wood in half, the grain revealed two crosses. Over time, as he looked more closely, part of the dead log bore hellish, demonic images resembling Satan. The other half, which retained most of its bark and appeared to remain alive, depicted at least 18 events from the Bible.
Some have dismissed Durand as a crackpot or a religious zealot, but the Roanoke man feels an obligation to share the images with anyone who wants to see them.
"I believe God gave me a wonderful gift and I would not be much of a man if I kept it to myself," said Durand. "For 18 years, I've been trying to share it, but I can't bring 300 people to my back porch and show this."
Sign No. 1
In 2001, Durand faced a quandary.
"It was about jobs, two good jobs," he said.
One would provide a lot of money, but he would be away from home a lot. The other option was to remain a woodcutter, making a lot less money, but keeping the ability to be with his family every night.
"We needed the money at the time because we were just starting our family," Durand recalled. "So I said, 'God, send me a sign. What do you want me to do? Take the money or be home?'"
While he was waiting for "a sign," he began clearing 20 hard-maple trees from outside a funeral home in Eureka to make room for an expanded parking lot.
As he was cutting the last tree into logs that would fit in his fireplace, an image in the shape of a Jerusalem cross — "one of the first Christian crosses supposedly known to man" — appeared on the cut facing,” he noted.
Durand took the symbol as a sign from God that he should remain a woodcutter and stay at his family's side.
"I've been cutting trees for years. Never ever are you going to find a cross in a tree again," he said. "I put both pieces on the back of my pickup truck and I began driving around showing people the cross."
Bob Remmert was working at Roanoke Motors on the west side of the village, not far from Durand's home, when Durand pulled up with the two pieces from the log.
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"He was so excited he could hardly stand," recalled Remmert. "I thought, 'Holy cow, he sure did get a sign.' It does seem strange because the Lord's foster father was a carpenter."
As Remmert and others looked more closely, they started pointing out other images.
"The first time I saw it, I could see different things on that log. A short time later, we looked it over (at Durand's house) and without any help, I picked out 12 or 13 things that pretty well follow along with the Bible," said Remmert.
The images include a hand with a nail in it, a spear like the one used to pierce Jesus after he died on the cross, a large chalice and a woman and a man holding a baby in his lap. Some likened the three to Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
"So there's the nativity story, the flight into Egypt, including the pyramid. They are all small details," said Remmert.
The biblical narrative appears on the piece of the log that, even 18 years after being split, has vibrant color and most of its bark.
"The only thing I did to it was I sandpapered and rubbed some vegetable oil on it about 10 years ago," Durand said. "To have (the bark) on this is a miracle, because the only thing that holds bark on a tree is a live tree."
The other half of the log bears a fainter image of the Jerusalem cross. The wood appears dead: dry, dark and without bark.
"Curiosity got the best of me," said Durand. "I took pictures of (the dead piece) and, between numerous people, we found over 15 images of demons or Satan."
"They are more like the dark side — like Revelations, demons and hellfire and the devil himself with a pitchfork in his hand," said Remmert.
Durand is a gifted log sculptor: a pair of wooden airplanes, a Flintstones-like automobile carved from a large log, large wooden birds and a massive outdoor dining table all grace his yard on North Main Street. But, the Biblical images were not incised; instead, they were created by the grain of the wood.
"I think it was a heavenly sign to him," Remmert added. "He said it was just like his hands were guided; he was to cut it right where he sawed the log in two."
Sign No. 2
In Durand's yard is a piece of plywood with the painted words "CROSS IN LOG" to help guide visitors to his house after they hear about the logs by word of mouth and social media chatter.
A man from India and a couple from Australia have been among the visitors. Many others, mostly from Central Illinois, have stopped by to look at the pieces. When asked, he also gives presentations to small groups.
Durand would like to talk with museums about possibly selling or renting the log pieces because he wants to build a house near his woodworking shop in the countryside and needs financial help.
He's asked God for guidance and received an answer when the plywood sign blew over during a heavy rain.
When the water receded and the ground had dried, he lifted the sign to put it upright and found that the water had stained the wood everywhere — except for a dry space in the shape of a cross.
That, Durand believes, is God saying he should hang onto the pieces.
"What I tell people is, that whatever they take from seeing this log, that's all I want," Durand said. "If they are having a bad day and this gives them a little boost of energy, a little love that makes me happy."