Virtual farm guilty pleasure

Sharna Johnson

“Thank you for feeding my chickens.”

The words formed in my brain, but I managed to engage the filter right before they made it off the tip of my tongue.

Instead I smiled as I passed a professional female acquaintance in the courthouse hallway and kept walking, mentally kicking myself.

You see, I don’t really have chickens.

Just like I don’t technically have a farm.

Yeah, I have horses and dogs and cats and reptiles and fish and a heck of a lot of grass to mow, but I’m not inclined to call it a farm.

And yet I spend an inordinate amount of my time escaping from my never-finished-mowing-and-feeding-and-fixing-critter-kingdom by going to the farm.

Yes, I am referring to FarmVille, an online social networking game.

My virtual farm is a guilty little pleasure that started this winter, somewhere between trips from the bathtub to the barn with buckets of water for the horses because the hoses were frozen.

I suppose it’s because on the virtual farm, unlike the real, itchy, sweaty chore of loading and unloading hay 70 back-breaking-pounds at a time, I can buck bales without breaking a sweat and not feel it the next day.

With a click, I can plow the most precise little squares, plant them with a variety of exotic fruits, vegetables and flowers and have results in anywhere from four hours to a couple of days.

It’s a stark contrast to endless hours on my not-so-trusty riding mower, Calamity Jane (just “Jane” will do), who goes choking and chugging as I push her through the wilds that used to be my yard.

There, as I swat at nickel-sized mosquitoes and biting flies, I feel a little like the grim reaper watching the toads and rabbits — with the exception of a few unfortunate slow ones — darting out ahead of me in sheer terror.

It’s no wonder that on my breaks from culling the toad herd and terrorizing bunnies, I often head for the computer, mopping the sweat from my grit-covered face because I got an e-mail alert that my crops are ready for harvest.

Ah … and there they are … the goats waiting patiently in their pens to be milked (they don’t eat trees), the horses are lined up quietly in the stable (they never poop) and the llamas are standing by to be brushed with a pleasant, loving look on their faces (they don’t spit).

I hop on my tractor (it starts every time) and off I go, harvesting, plowing and planting, watching my money grow as I click.

Then sometimes there’s the occasional gift from a friend or a message that someone stopped by for a visit, fed my chickens or fertilized my crops. Such good neighbors!

My generous neighbors are in some cases loose acquaintances, some, I am ashamed to admit, I’m just using to enlarge my farm or for help building that new barn or beehive and others are dear friends I have reconnected with — rebonding over fertilizer bags and mystery eggs.

Some have asked me, “Why don’t you just go play on your real farm?”

Well, I suppose it’s a Yin to my Yang and I need them both in some strange way.

But I am not complaining.

I am happy even when I spend the afternoon fighting with Jane because she doesn’t want to let go of that concrete block she sucked up or because she threw a belt during a tantrum of “I don’t wanna” or when I’m hoisting fence panels onto my shoulder to create a new playpen for my equine children.

And I can’t help but smile when I get caught in the field during a sudden summer storm that washes away the dust and cools the soul.

Sure, I reach for my keyboard and tuck my hay and mud covered boots under my seat Monday mornings, incredibly aware of the aches and pains.

And maybe there’s no line of neighbors to ask if they can lend a hand and the rewards don’t come as easy, but they are plentiful nonetheless and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

Somehow the two balance each other perfectly.

If anybody’s looking for me, I’ll be on my farm.