Washington may charish lofty illusions of power and foresight, but when nearly two feet of snow straitjackets the city, movers and shakers tend to put their feet back on the ground.

Those who struggled into work on Monday, and those who never got home on Sunday, swapped the kind of snow stories their grandparents used to tell.

First press secretary Jody Powell skied over to Massachusetts Avenue and then hitched a ride with a four-wheel-drive van. "I think most people didn't make it in," he said mildly.

Meanwhile, military maintenance men cleared the South Lawn of the White House for the helicopter landing of Powell's boss. President Carter and the entire Carter clan -- Rosalynn and Amy, Chip and Caron and James Earl III, and Jack and Judy and Jason and Sarah -- who spent most of the weekend cross-country skiing at Camp David. On one such excursion with son Jack and personal physician William Lukash, Carter slipped and skinned his forehead.

Vice President Walter Mondale and his son Teddy were called to the rescue of nine people stranded in the downtown law office where young Mondale works part time. The nine had been working since Sunday morning, unaware that there were no restaurants or grocery stores open in the area when the storm marooned them. When Cokes were no longer enough sustenance, they called Teddy at home. His parents bundled up a "care" package of hamburgers, bread, butter, soup and leftover birthday cake from the freezer, then the vice president dropped off the supplies on his way to work.

David Brinkley "managed to get a day off out of it" sitting in his Wesley Heights home with columnist Art Buchwald. "It's kind of nice and neighborhoody. You call around and see if anybody needs.. milk or anything."

Buchwald himself was clicking photographs and pronouncing on the weather. "There were 14 Boy Scouts from New Jersey camped across the way, and they came over and asked if they could do their good deed for the day. We have three snow shovels, and they shoveled off our roof."

In the meantime, he continued, "I'm walking around the neighborhood, making sure everyone's cleaning their sidewalks. I want a clean neighborhood. I saw one of my neighbors and told him I wanted it shoveled by noon.

"My theory about this is that people can do without food and they can do without drink, but they can't do without cigarettes. It's the people without cigarettes you've got to look out for."

House Minority Leader John Rhodes (R-Ariz.) said no car had been down his street in Maryland all day. "We're almost always the last street to get plowed out," he said with no sign of regret. He expected to get his car out late yesterday, "otherwise I'm going to stay here till spring."

Tennessee Democratic freshman Rep. Bill Boner jogged to the Hill in T-shirt and tennis shoes, only to be drafted into giving the traditional Washington's birthday reading of the first president's Farewell Address to a nearly empty chamber. That over, the House adjourned until Wednesday.

Over on the other side, freshman Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), who hitched a ride in from Georgetown with a farmer from the American Agriculture Movement, read the address to a crowd of three of his distinguished colleagues.

Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) and his wife were trying to return from New York by train, but a member of their family pointed out that even if the Churches made it back to D.C., they wouldn't be able to get home to Bethesda until the streets were plowed.

Carrie Lee Nelson, whose Democratic senator husband, Gaylord, is safe in the milder climes of Wisconsin, shoveled her Kensington driveway clear but then couldn't get her car into the unplowed street. A registered nurse, she'd intended to help at one of the area hospitals, but wound up reading "Art in the Capital" and drinking tea. "I've been screaming about not having enough time to myself, and now I have," she said.

Rep. Joseph L. Fisher (D-Va.) said it was fortunate that the snow had not damaged power lines. "In a situation like this, electrical power is more important for most people than transportation."

However, Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association, might have disagreed. His Concorde flight from London was diverted to Hartford, Conn., and he wound up in New York.

A siege mentality took hold at the ABC offices on Connecticut Avenue where the evening crew was snowed in. Production manager Rocci Fisch said he had booked rooms at the Mayflower for "everybody that made it into work," and standby rooms at the Guest Quarters.

ABC Radio desk assistant Dina Rasor skied in from 40th and Calvert. "Coming down Massachusetts Avenue the skiing was great, but then the snowplow came by and there were bare places on the pavement. I wish they hadn't taken care of the roads so well."

Desk editor Tom Shrine hoofed it from College Park. "When I started out in the morning, about 7 o'clock, I saw buses going in the other direction. I figured they'd have to come back my way. So I walked... to the Metro station on Rhode Island Avenue." At that point, he discovered, "it was either walking back or waiting a long while for a train."

Frank Reynolds called for a ride from an ABC engineer with a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Cameraman Gordon Hoover caught a ride on a farmer's tractor, and an Associated Press reporter was seen hitched behind a car on his skis.

Rosalynn Carter's press secretary Mary Hoyt, vice-presidential counsel Michael Berman and wife Carol, National Endowment for the Humanities chairman Joseph Duffy and his wife, White House adviser Annie Wexler, all denizens of the same Northwest apartment house, gathered for a "survival party" in the Berman's flat last night. Guests were invited to bring their own food, while the hostess provided "six packages of very doubtful wild rice."

The few operating downtown kitchens were under intense pressure. Zina Silo, manager of the Mayflower's Carvery, said flatly, "We have a very limited menu, just soup and sandwiches between lunch and dinner. You're gonna have to eat what we got." And to add to her troubles, "only two regular waiters arrived. So who knows what's gonna happen by dinnertime?"

On the other hand, over at Avignon Freres caterers, the mood was light. "This has been the most beautiful day." chirped a staffer. "Everybody is so happy. Nobody was supposed to come to work, but everybody showed up."

There were tangible signs of cheer on the battlefront. In Cleveland Park, neighborhood snow-shovelers treated themselves to wine and cheese laid out on top of one snowbound car. A grinning motorist sashayed down Wisconsin with his window down and his handpuppet waving at pedestrians. A young man who spent the night in Babe's bar called a friend with a Jeep to rescue him, then the friend disappeared into the bar. Men sweeping the streets near Tenley Circle elaborately waved a car packed with hitchhikers through, in service" Metrobus picked up a lonely passenger on Wisconsin and expressed him to Federal Triangle, not knowing that the subway wasn't running either.

The one Washingtonian who didn't have a thing to worry about was Mayor Marion Barry, high and dry on vacation in the South.