NOT THAT I’M counting, but as I write these words it is just seven days until Christmas, a day that lags only behind the opening day of duck season as the best day of my life every year. Of course, those two would only be the best days of the year, if you discount the annual celebration of the day of the year I met an innocent college freshman coed in an Oak Ridge dorm who has now been a part of my life for nearly 48 years, more than 46 of those as my lovely wife.

Now, agreeing that other than the above stipulation concerning my lovely wife that no day is more exciting than the opening day of duck season, there is still much to be said for the excitement and anticipation that comes with another opening day, that being the day that presents under the tree finally are handed out to be opened.

My share of the take usually has much to do with the Wisconsin Badgers. I currently, at last count, have Badger clothing to the tune of three pairs of gloves, 96 hats, 243 T-shirts, six pairs of boxer shorts, 74 sweatshirts and 287 other assorted items of clothing, blankets and doodads. It’s enough to open my own Badgers store.

I treasure all my Bucky Badger stuff, but even more, I treasure other things, tangible and intangible, that I receive each year, regardless of whether or not it’s actually Christmas. For all intents and purposes, those presents are Christmas presents whenever I receive them.

The biggest — well, it was really about the smallest when I received it — was a bouncing baby boy, all of 8 weeks old, who has been alternately enriching my life and driving me to distraction ever since he came into my life.

Gordie, my new duck hunting companion, is no longer a bouncing baby boy. He is more like a teenager, every few minutes alternating swigs of the most potent energy drink on the market with a cup of raw sugar. As yellow labs go, he is the epitome of lively spirit combined with the evil intentions of Beelzebub. One minute he is stretched out contentedly like a newborn baby with his head in my wife’s lap; the next, he is tearing around like a crazed water buffalo bowling over anything and anybody which or who happens to be in his path.

But more than anything, he is a duck retriever. At 6 months he showed his stuff, retrieving nine ducks on the water downed by my young partners of the hunt opening morning of the North Dakota duck season. I figured after two hours of blasting, the boys must have had at least one or two ducks on the water and they did. With a little encouragement and some well-aimed small rocks thrown in the direction of the first couple of birds to be retrieved, Gordie was on his way to being a certified duck dog.

Sure, he still has got a lot to learn about ducks and duck retrieving, but I know he’s going to be very good at it. And I am one very, very, very happy aging duck hunter to once again have a young, strong dog to do the heavy lifting.

The best part of it all was that Gordie was an early Christmas present from my son and daughter. Whelped from one of the best kennels in the country down in Portage, Gordie will be like the Jelly of the Month Club, which as Cousin Eddie described it in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” is the gift that keeps on giving every day of the year.”

Gordie certainly does all of that, whether it be with a great duck retrieve, an evening of entertainment trying to get small dog bones out of a rubber barrel toy or the peace and contentment that only comes with a dog’s cold nose against your cheek when you are both sacked out in a recliner.

He’s very much like Molly, a certain golden retriever who also was a June Christmas present five-and-a-half years ago. She has been the gift that has never stopped giving, albeit gifts that have been much more gentle and laid back than those received from Gordie. I wouldn’t trade any of them for all the money in the world.

But they aren’t the only early presents I received this year. It was on a nice spring day in April, that my aforementioned lovely wife gave the OK to sign adoption papers for our very first camping trailer. A lovely camper it is, but even better, my lovely wife insisted on writing the check from her own account to finalize the adoption.

We didn’t get to use the girl — the camper, not my wife — as much as we’d have liked to during this past rainy summer, but when we did we enjoyed her — again, the camper — immensely.

I got to camp solo with the camper on its first outing the mid-May day I drove up to Cloquet, Minn., to pick her up. After I managed to drive through Duluth, Minn., and Superior without any mishaps, I headed for my most favorite trout fishing country in the world.

For a day, I got to fish the White River, some natural spring ponds and another secret stream. I kept but three trout, all honest foot-long brown trout, all of them lovely as could be.

My wife’s maiden voyage with the camper came later, a weekend outing during which we enjoyed all the peace and quiet you could ask for at a rustic campground on one of our favorite little lakes. We had friends with whom to share a campfire, owls and loons to serenade us during the night and sparkling blue waters lapping at the shore to lull us into afternoon naps.

Along the way this year, there were other early Christmas gifts, most of them provided by Mother Nature; gifts like glorious sunrises and golden sunsets, amazing displays of lightning strikes, autumn trees draped in brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow, and of course, the beauty of the season’s first pure white snowfall clinging to dark green boughs of fir and pine.

Last, but not least, was another Christmas gift that just keeps on giving: the gift of friendship and family throughout the year. I treasure them all.

Now, all I want to know is how many presents will actually be under the tree for me Christmas morning. Bring them on.