Published May 31. 2013 4:00AM
Lyme - Barefoot and cross-legged on the grass as he stirred the wood fire in the outdoor oven he fashioned from brick, clay and stones he hauled out of the stream in his backyard, Carter Levin focused on the task at hand: getting the oven to just the right temperature for pizza-making.
"It takes about two hours to get it up to the heat you need," he explained, palming the outside of the dome-shaped oven to feel its warmth. "I make the pizzas really small and thin, and they cook really fast."
Building his own outdoor oven last summer at the Hadlyme home he shares with his parents, Abby Carter and Doug Levin, is just one of many diverse and uniquely challenging pursuits Levin, with a lanky, 5-foot-11 frame topped by wavy dark hair, regularly engages in. On Wednesday, the 18-year-old will be one of 53 graduates from The Williams School in New London, a 40-minute drive from home.
His interests range from computer programming to art, chemistry to competitive squash, physics to scratch baking. For his senior project at Williams, Levin, 18, combined three of those interests, creating a 3D video squash game that draws on what he learned about perspective and illusion in advanced art classes at the private school. And while he seems to excel wherever his latest passion takes him, he manages to keep things in perspective.
"He's very aware of how lucky he is, but he's very, very humble," said Rachel Thomas-Shapiro, chemistry teacher at Williams and his advisor. "He thinks more deeply about things that most people his age, and makes connections."
His mother, a children's book illustrator, said the outdoor oven was typical of the kind of consuming, multi-layered projects her son likes to get involved in.
"When he gets interested in something, he really gets interested in it," she said.
Carter started at Williams in 10th grade, after spending his freshman year traveling abroad with his parents, joined by his older sister Samantha during her college breaks. His mother said the family had been planning the trip for several years to give their children a first-hand perspective on the wider world away from the rural corner where they've lived for the last decade.
They stayed off many of the most beaten paths for American tourists, instead visiting South Africa, Turkey, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan and India - densely populated locations in stark contrast to the sparsely populated town of 2,000 they call home. During their travels, Carter took high school freshman-level courses online, an endeavor that taught him time-management skills the hard way, after he fell seriously behind in his assignments and suddenly had to "step on the gas" to catch up.
The world travels, he said, were "an incredible experience. We stayed in apartments and tried to assimilate ourselves into the cultures. I really loved Japan and India. They have such distinct cultures."
Carter and his family are planning a relatively quiet summer, mostly staying home while he works as a bus boy at Fox Hopyard Golf Club in East Haddam, except for a return visit to their annual vacation spot in Friendship, Maine. In late August, Carter will head 45 miles west to start his freshman year at Yale University, where he's "leaning towards computer science or physics," but would "like to incorporate art as well."
Thomas-Shapiro, his chemistry teacher, said she can't predict where the future will take Carter.
"I can't wait to find out what he's going to do," she said. "It's going to be really exciting to follow his journey."