Most people are drawn to the open sky. We orient ourselves to open spaces where the sun can shine and we can consider the forests or cliffs the boundaries of our habitable world.Folktales portraying loss of consciousness (sleep, death, enchantment) do so with trees, thornbushes, or vines overgrowing the civilized place. In my part of New England, Maine, the woods are full of foundation holes, paddocks, and wells from a time when light shone on plowed or grazed homesteads. When we walk toward a clearing, it is the form of a homestead that we are drawn to, knowing that it means there are living, working, things about. These living things may amount to an ancient ant colony or grazing cattle.
In the vast open spaces of the American plains and deserts, it is the opposite; we gravitate toward the copse of trees. During the year I lived and worked in Death Valley, California, I spent my time off painting landscapes. At first, I would always head for an oasis or clump of palms that signified a spring. I would paint the contrast between the green that my woodland mind felt safe in and the bleached landscape just beyond the fringe of leaves. Perhaps four months passed before I could see and paint a desert devoid of trees. For most people, open space disturbs and it is not just the instinctive protection from predators that we seek in the shelter of trees; it is shelter from the eye of God. Or to put it another way, wide-open spaces force us to introspection at a scale most of us are unequipped to manage.
Landscape design allows us to apportion the degree to which open space effects us. The dimensions of a clearing or the use of an open field will direct the emotional/spiritual quality of the space. A glade will be private, a lawn public, a hundred-acre expanse of open ground and invitation to journey outside of our bodies.