KINSTON, N.C. -- The Gospel of John quotes Jesus as saying "I am the true vine," and some folks in eastern North Carolina think they may have witnessed a literal demonstration.
A utility pole about a mile south of Kinston has attracted attention in the last week or so from people who say the kudzu clinging to it resembles the image of Jesus on the cross.
Kent Hardison goes by the pole every day on his way to work at Ma's Hotdog House, about a 90-minute drive east of Raleigh. His first reaction, common here when it comes to kudzu, was to blast it with Roundup herbicide. But then he had second thoughts, according to The Free Press of Kinston.
"I glanced at it, and it looks like Jesus," Hardison said. "I thought, 'You can't spray Jesus with Roundup.'"
Believers have reported seeing the face of Jesus in everything from sheet metal to a grilled cheese sandwich, but the depiction of the crucifixion is a rarer phenomenon.
"I just thought it was my imagination," Hardison said. "I thought I was crazy the first time I saw it and it resembled Jesus."
Hardison and some of his customers think the vine might be an indication that God is watching over the region.
"Maybe it's a sign of the times," Michelle Davis said. "There's been a lot going on in this area." Kudzu, originally imported from Japan decades ago to help prevent soil erosion, has enjoyed such explosive growth that it's sometimes known as "the vine that ate the South." Long a problem for foresters and farmers with large plots of land, in recent years it's been moving into cities and developed areas.
Power companies spend about $1.5 million a year fixing damaged power lines caused by kudzu growth, according to Irwin Forseth Jr., a biologist at the University of Maryland.
Hardison said that regardless of whether there's any deep meaning to the vine, kudzu makes an appropriate medium for a divine message.
"It doesn't matter what you do, it is going to be around," he said. "Ain't that a lot like Jesus?"