Bart Mendoza 5 a.m., Dec. 8
THE PROJECT BY CHARLIE BATSCH
It was a beautiful April Sunday. Today was the big day. We, meaning my friend Kent and myself were making a small trip today out of the city hopefully not to far. We decided to drive out towards Lake Otay near Chula Vista, California. We were in the middle of completing part of our final exam in biology at Coronado high school circa spring 1974. The project was to go out and catch an animal or reptile or something, return it to class on Monday do a written essay on the creature and the experience.
We started our journey. I had no car so Kent drove his baja bug. It was a real nice ride and he had a little geet $$$$ invested into it. Big tires, nice stereo and a modified motor. We took off down the strand, thru I.B., north on the 5 out L st. to Telegraph Canyon and towards Lake Otay. As we approached the lake dam I said this is the spot. We parked somewhere by the side of the road, got our gear together and proceeded to go on a little hike. We saw a trail and proceeded to follow it heading towards the dam. After about five or ten minutes on the trail I couldn't believe what I saw. There was about a five or six foot rattle snake, a diamond back maybe. I can't remember the species.
At this point we did a gear assessment, ha ha. That morning I rigged up a what I'll call an adjustable loop on the end of a simi big game fishing pole. That is I took the pole, reel free, quadrupled 25 pound fishing line and tied it at the handle and then ran the four lines thru the metal eyes to the end and made a creature catching loop on the end. This has been tested in different models over the years but those are different stories. Now it was time to get down to business. I think my heart was pounding in my ears and it was going to be pounding a lot harder pretty soon. The snake seemed like it was asleep. It was straddling the trail in front of us perpendicular to the trail and appeared to have eaten something large as there was a good sized lump about two feet from it's head. This was a good sized snake with a head the size of a tennis ball and about twelve rings on it's rattler which made him possibly about four to six years old. He was a monster human killer.
I very carefully slid the noose over his or her head not to wake it up in the process. I slowly tightened up the loop. Bang, it was like fourth of July and a big one just went off. The snake went crazy, rattler going about ten thousand r.p.m.'s. I had a tiger by the tail. He immediately wrapped his body around the pole towards me in a cork screw manner. Were we nuts?!!!! Obviously Kent thought so too as he picked up a basketball sized rock and said “we're in over our heads, we gotta kill it". I said no way and an act liken to an old Laurel and Hardy comedy started to unfold. He chased me in a circle for about five or ten minutes with the boulder in both hands over his head yelling “kill it” and me yelling “no“. I can't remember how long it was, I lost track of time, it seemed like it went on forever. The snake kept twisting around and around and around the pole and at the same time twisting the fishing line tighter and tighter. Finally the snake went limp and we stopped our parade. We both stood there breathing very heavy with our eyes bugging out of our heads. The snake just hung there and we thought it was dead and we were starting to feel real bad. Bad feelings aside for the time being, we started to gain our thoughts and settle down. We had a small back pack with us also and I proceeded to carefully lower the monster into it while Kent held it open. When we got to the end of the pole and what appeared to be the choked out head of this bad boy I noticed that the line had gotten tangled around it’s mouth holding it wide open as it could be, jaw unlatched with both one and a half inch fangs fully exposed. It took a while to get it untangled cause I didn't want to get nicked by the fangs and was worried that it might come back to life. We finally lowered the last of the big fellow into the back pack and as he was going in a large amount of venom spewed on the top of the pack. We were very careful not to get any of the venom on our hands. Zip!!!! We put the pack on the middle of the pole and walked back up the trail to the car . We carefully put the pack on the back seat and proceeded to head home. I was a mid west boy from Ohio and was a year behind in school. I was eighteen years old and I had gotten a job and found my own place to live. I decided to Finish my last year of high school at Coronado High. We got back to my place, put the pack back on the pole took it upstairs and put it in a trunk in my closet. It was now evening. I found it hard to sleep that night.
The next morning came quickly . I got up early, walked to the closet in my bare feet slowly opened up the trunk and carefully removed the back pack from the trunk. I very slowly and carefully opened the zipper just a little bit to peer inside. The snake was coiled ever so perfectly with his beautiful triangular shaped head lying peacefully in the middle of the coil. He appeared to look up at me with black eyes and at that moment swelled up about one and a half times his previous size as an inflating tire. Zipp!!!!! I got ready to go to school. I took a walking stick and put the back pack on it hobo style and proceeded to walk three blocks to the high school. I'm glad I lived close to the school. I went straight to the biology lab and found Mr. Cartwright. He was surprised to see me as class was not until the afternoon session. He wondered what I had in the pack on the stick. I said I had a creature for the part of the final exam that my partner for the project, Kent and I had captured. He asked what it was. I said that he should very carefully and slowly open the zipper ever so slightly and have a look. The same reaction took place as when I checked earlier that morning. Zipp!!!! “Gasp!!!! Oh my God” he said. “Go to class and I'll take care of this“.
I went to my morning classes which went agonizingly slow, my mind racing thinking about the last twenty four hours. After lunch passed I made my way to my afternoon biology class. As I was coming down the hall to the class I noticed there was a large crowd of about forty to fifty students gathered outside the glass to the biology lab room . I made my way through the crowd and in the door to the lab. Mr. Cartwright, my project partner Kent and a few other students were standing around a large aquarium which had a large heavy cinder block on the top of the aquarium cover. You know what was inside. Mr. C proceeded to explain that our friend had tried to strike at him a few times during the process of the transfer from the back pack to the aquarium. He said he was lucky.
Over the next week I built a sturdy cage for my new pet in my little apartment. When it came time for the transfer I went to the high school to talk to Mr. Cartwright. When I got there to the biology lab the snake was no where to be found and the aquarium was empty. When I explained my plans to Mr. C he laughed out loud. L.O.L. I was shocked. He explained the liability and that he had taken the creature out back land up near Miramar far away from the civilized and released it. I sighed but understood it was for the better. I was still mad at him for a while. As I left class that day Mr. C. looked over at me and said.,"You two did one hell of a job, forget the essay you got an "A" for your project". I got an F on the written part of the final exam and barely passed biology with a "D". That “A” for the project saved my ass. The back pack was bleached white on the spot where the venom had spewed.