PHOTOGRAPHY BY MEGAN VAUGHAN
WITH MODEL MOLLY KATHERINE

Summer is for shape-shifters and surprises, flower spells and animal portents.

For dreaming and doing and reveling in the steady surge of life—the ferns that leaf out of control, the rose that blooms and blooms, the fawns who find their legs and begin to explore this messy, gorgeous, ever-changing world. It’s the season for reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses and experiencing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for digging up your favorite selkie story or writing one yourself. It’s for falling in thunderstruck love with the flora and fauna at home and in nature. They will transform you in ways you would never expect.

This summer, lose yourself in a forest, in a gown the color of Irish moss—like this one here, by Chotronette—with a crown like a halo of needles. In time you will come upon a cottage, or maybe a greenhouse, nestled in among the trees, as happens in the very best seasons. The door is open, and the display of potted plants inside tempts you to shed your crown. Wings unfurl from your shoulder blades—you become a fairy, seeing and smelling and touching the wonders around you as if for the first time. And then maybe the queen’s gown is too much, so you shimmy out of it and choose something you can run in. Shake out your hair and you’ll feel a surge: The hard white antlers sprout, the sign that this version of you too is at home.

There is no place better for living out tales of summer magic than Vaughan House, the site of this issue’s cover shoot. You might remember the story from our “Magical Spaces” issue in summer 2021: When owners Megan and Mitch Vaughan suffered a miscarriage, Megan fell into depression—and a testing of faith—until a friend’s gift of a potted daffodil somehow struck a hopeful chord. Gradually a new interest in horticulture drew Megan out of her sorrow. It inspired Mitch to build—in their backyard and with his own hands—a rustic greenhouse that Megan could fill with her favorite potted plants.

Today the greenhouse brims over. It is a sanctuary for Megan and Mitch’s young family, and it has unexpectedly transformed their lives. Their property is now a popular micro-wedding venue, and they are putting final touches on a new space, a cottage complete with a turret right out of a fairy tale. As they promise on their website, “We are the folklore hidden in the woods.”

Romantic love is most at home in summer—perhaps with unexpected consequences. Consider A Midsummer Night’s Dream: If you fall asleep in the forest, you just might find yourself enamored of the first person you see upon waking, if the fairies are around to sprinkle your eyelids with the juice of a wild pansy called love-in-idleness. Or in a most unfortunate transformation, you might wake up with the head of an ass … and discover that the person who’s been sleeping near you is perfectly happy with the new you.

Every fairy is a shape-shifter. So are the Scandinavian nisser; so are naiads and dryads, goddesses and witches … and mortals such as this issue’s mascot, Arachne, who was so renowned in life for her tapestries that she aroused the wrath of Athena—and then defeated her in a weaving contest. After a beating with Athena’s shuttle, Arachne repented of her pride and hanged herself. Athena showed mercy by resurrecting Arachne as a spider, and the weaver returned to work on the spot, albeit on a much smaller scale.

“Weaving spiders, come not here,” chants Shakespeare’s First Fairy, protecting Titania’s sleep. “Hence, you long-legged spinners, hence.”

But wait—we’d like to extend those spiders, most humble fauna, an invitation. They are beneficial for the garden and for the home; their only crime is being so good at what they do. In tribute, look for spiderwebs throughout this issue; you’ll find them made out of all sorts of materials, glinting or wisping in sometimes unexpected places.

Take our cover, for example. Our personal Titania, glorious model Molly Katherine, pays homage to Arachne in a golden detail. Molly is a bit of a shape-shifter herself. She says that designing costumes comes naturally for her: “I’ve always had an extensive range of styles, and a lot of times I get consumed by the aesthetic of whatever I’m into at the moment—whether that’s a show, music, or anything else.” Getting into character for a shoot is “really just embodying someone that I already feel like or want to be, so it is a great way for me to channel the different ways I feel on any given day!”

Molly’s long locks are clearly a signature feature. They’re also surprisingly versatile when it comes to transforming herself. “I have endless options,” she says. “If I want to let the outfit shine, I can do something really simple with my hair, and the image will still have that ethereal, fantasy, or Renaissance-painting look I’m going for.”

In Molly’s pictures on these pages, we spot allusions to Pre-Raphaelite painters John William Waterhouse and John Everett Millais, and to stories of enchanted deer, and to the powers of gardens and greenhouses to soothe and inspire and even heal. Most of all, we see in these photos—as with this issue in full—a celebration of summer’s hope and the power of flora and fauna (and very, very long hair) to inspire and beguile.

Susann Cokal is the author of four novels, the latest of which is Mermaid Moon. Visit her online at susanncokal.com.

Photographer/Styling: Megan Vaughan @vaughanhouse
Model: Molly Katherine @scarlett.o.hair
Dresses: Chotronette @chotronette
Wings: Wearable Whimzy @wearablewhimzy
Gold crown: Verdessa Fairy B.Contrary @verdessa_fairy
Antler headpiece: @thefloramystica
Florals: Mary @loveisintheairevents
Venue: Vaughan House Greenhouse @vaughanhouse

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Susann Cokal is the author of four novels, including the award-winning Kingdom of Little Wounds and her latest, Mermaid Moon, in which a mermaid goes ashore to find her mother, only to fall into the clutches of a witch who wants to harvest her magic. Cokal also writes short fiction and essays about oddities, and she lives in a haunted farmhouse with cats, peacocks, spouse, and unseen beings who bump in the night. “I’ve always suspected there was more to mermaids than the shipwrecks and love stories that lead them to land,” she says. “I’m glad I had the chance to figure them out in these changing times—both in the novel and here among the creatures of Enchanted Living.”