Ancient Tree Seeds a Newly Minted Author

By Justin Swanson, Special to the Independent


Gilbert G. Thibault, a 36-year Laguna Beach resident, recently published his first nonfiction work, “I Am the World’s Oldest-Known Living Tree,” a children’s book about California-native bristlecone pines.

Becoming a self-published author is unchartered territory for Thibault, a real-estate broker by trade. However, the facets of education are not new to Thibault, a former university professor at Chapman University and Wisconsin State University, among others.

Bristlecone pines, the book’s chief subject, pique a particular interest for Thibault.  He appreciates the character of this species, which are, as the title suggests, the oldest trees on Earth. The author wants his readers to grasp the magnitude of that statement, especially Californians, since bristlecone pines predate California redwoods “by more than 1,500 years,” making them about 5,000 years old.

An avid hiker and nature-lover, Thibault first encountered these tenacious, enduring life forms in 1996 while visiting the Eastern Sierra’s Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in Inyo County on a whim with his daughter and niece.  Unaware of the significance of the forest at first, and ever the curious mind, Thibault asked, “What is interesting around here?”  Unbeknownst to him, this question began a 15-year endeavor to cull information about these trees to present the public.

“What struck me was — of course the beauty of the trees – but their age.  They’re as old as the pyramids!”

Thibault described waking up in the middle of the night consumed with a calling to write the book, to tell a story. Though the path he took to finish his product was not without its adjustments.

“It didn’t start out as a children’s book, but it made sense to focus on kids so they could urge their parents to take them to see these trees.”

To better identify with his target audience, Thibault oriented the book around a narrator: Methusala, which is the name of the oldest-known bristlecone pine, the oldest tree in the world.  (The actual tree is the stuff of legend as its whereabouts are hidden from the public, though Thibault says there are clues to finding it.)

In order to hone the vision and scope of the book, Thibault field-tested his work-in-progress at local schools such as Tijeras Creek Elementary in Rancho Santa Margarita, Diamond Elementary in Santa Ana, and at Top of the World Elementary here in Laguna. The fourth and fifth-graders made suggestions that Thibault took to heart, including the avoidance of scientifically technical aspects.

Now that he has completed the book, Thibault plans on shopping it to parks where bristlecone pines grow so visitors can “learn more about the trees after they see them.”

Interested parties are able to order “I Am the World’s Oldest-Known Living Tree” by contacting Thibault at [email protected].

Local resident Justin Swanson is an Indy intern.

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