MOST PEOPLE BELIEVE Santa Claus only comes to visit once a year; that visit coming Christmas Eve. I know better and I have proof.

I have seen Santa at many times of the year. Well, OK, maybe I didn’t actually see him; at least not in his red suit and black boots, with white beard flowing and accompanied by eight reindeer. But I do have proof.

Allow me to introduce people’s Exhibit A, B, C and so on. As shown in Exhibit A, it was Feb. 23, when Santa came to town. Actually, he didn’t get into town — too many people in his way — but he did glide along a 55-kilometer trail that 1,873 people in a classic technique cross-country ski race also followed that led them from the tiny town of Cable to the larger town of Hayward on a cloudy, wintry day.

The fastest person who covered every inch of this trail did it in three hours and four minutes. The last skier to cover the distance took nine hours and 52 minutes to do it.

Your erstwhile scribe took somewhere between those two times to cover the distance; much closer to the latter than the former. Your erstwhile scribe may not have covered that entire distance were it not for Santa Claus being on hand.

This particular scribe started well and reached the first-aid station at a pace well ahead of what he expected. The next largely uphill race segment slowed him down quite a bit, but the third saw a renewed effort at speed. The fourth began his downfall.

Too many hill climbs, too little strength and too few brains to give up kept me going; that and Santa Claus. He was there, I swear to you and each time I started having thoughts of dropping out, he gave me the gift of perseverance. One weak stride after another he gave me the gift; not only of perseverance, but of triumph when I finally climbed the International Bridge across Highway 63 in Hayward, swooped down the other side, and with a flair and elan I should have been too tired to have, finished the final 100 meters of the race with several hundred people, not the least of whom was Santa himself, cheering and encouraging me on.

The jolly elf did miss a chance to play an April Fool’s joke on me, but made up for it later in April when he found the time to accompany me on a turkey hunt in northwest Illinois.

He collaborated with my good friend, Dr. Greg Harmston, to trick me into thinking I should head to the deep woods in quest of a long-beard gobbler. In two long mornings of trying, I never saw so much as a feather and after hearing several close-by gobblers gobbling the first morning, never even heard a faint gobble the next.

Had I not fallen for Santa’s prank, I would have sat in my vehicle the first morning and shot a splendid gobbler that strutted in utter safety 20 yards in front of my vehicle while I hiked afar looking for him. Harmston, Santa’s co-conspirator, did see that gobbler strutting as he left the woods early to go to work.

To compound matters, Santa enlisted the aid of the beautiful, but cunning Peggy Harmston, who awakened this scribe from a well-earned nap on her couch 15 minutes before the 1 p.m. closing time of shooting hours to inform me that two gobblers were crossing the driveway 15 yards in front of an open garage door, heading for nearby woods. And here I could have simply sat in the comfort of a plush recliner in the garage and gotten a gobbler instead of getting aching muscles from a long walk and body full of wood ticks brought in from the forest.

All I can say is that most assuredly, Santa gave me the great gift of good humor that April weekend.

As the year continued, Santa kept coming back with more gifts for me. One such was the pleasure of witnessing the excitement and great happiness of a good friend catching, at age 83, the largest fish he’d ever caught in his life. 

The 34 1⁄2-inch northern pike slammed a yellow bucktail 15 minutes into a fishing outing and after a wild tussle was successfully netted by your scribe. That beautiful July morning, Santa was there, giving me the gift of joy that comes with seeing a friend having one of the best days of his life.

Along the way this year, Santa has given me the gift of appreciation of a good workout, walking at a rapid pace trying to keep up with a golden retriever and yellow lab who can run and walk much faster.

He gave me the gift of the wonderful state of North Dakota for the 28th time and further provided me with the gifts of thousands of ducks and geese to watch there; some of which eventually wound up in my belly. He also gave me a pleasant late-September morning of fishing for the first time in North Dakota. His gift that day, along with the simple pleasure of being on the water, was a dandy 5-pound northern that later provided my lovely wife and me with a bountiful dinner.

A recent big gift for which Santa traveled to north Wisconsin in late November, was the gift of a beautiful whitetail buck early the opening morning of deer season. That buck has already been the centerpiece of a few tasty dinners and will provide even more throughout the coming year, all thanks to Santa bearing gifts.

Perhaps lastly for this year, Santa has come early and often in November and December, with the gift of much snow for an old guy who loves to cross-country ski and who will now be able to prepare himself well for his 20th Birkebeiner race; a race which will give the old skier entrance into the exclusive Birkie Birchleggings Club at the age of 70.

That Santa Claus is a pretty nice guy.