The ant is knowing and wise; but he doesn't know enough to take a vacation. --Clarence Day

Neither do many Washingtonians, or so they and their secretaries say. "He doesn't take many vacations," said a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Robert Byrd. "In fact, I can't remember the last time he took a vacation."

"Vacation, you say?" presidential counselor Edwin Meese's secretary said, and laughed and laughed.

But workaholics aside, those who can get out of this city are packing their bags, or at least ordering their plane tickets, and by Aug. 1 many of the old familiar faces will be gone. The Reagans will be riding the range at their California ranch. House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. will be sunning on Cape Cod with his family. The Bushes and their Secret Service agents once again will descend on the quiet town of Kennebunkport, Maine. And W. Averell and Pamela Harriman will return to their "cottage" in Sun Valley. Why Sun Valley? "The governor invented Sun Valley, so they go there every year," a Harriman spokesman said. What better reason?

Of course, a vacation sometimes can be hard work. You have to remember to forward the mail, stop the paper, find a cat-sitter. And there are other worries. Mondale family members will spend their vacation fishing "up north," but Joan Mondale said, "I don't want to tell when because the burglars will come."

Oatsie Charles, the Georgetown hostess, doesn't worry about unexpected visitors while she's away, but there can be problems at the other end, too. "Vacation?" she asked. "The same old thing. Newport. I've been going there longer than you've been alive. Of course, it's terribly crowded already because of the America's Cup. It will be just awful."

For some, the same old thing means parents, childhood bedrooms and an old, familiar hammock. White House Chief of Staff James Baker and his wife will spend their holiday back home in Houston with his 89-year-old mother, and Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Deaver will take his family to Lake Tahoe where they have vacationed for more than 15 years.

Sen. John Warner of Virginia will, if Congress recesses in time, go in search of a different kind of past. During a move several years ago, Warner found the prayer book his father carried while serving as a field surgeon during World War I. In the back of the book, his father, who died when the senator was 18, kept a record of his wartime travels. Warner plans to follow the itinerary and even hopes to track down people who met his father when he passed through Europe almost 70 years ago.

Barbara Thomas, about to leave the Securities and Exchange Commission, will be looking ahead rather than back this summer. "I certainly do have plans!" she said. "I'm planning on taking care of my 11-week-old baby and trying to figure out how to get us all to Hong Kong in the fall." Thomas' husband is setting up a branch of his law firm in Hong Kong and she will be pursuing her interest in international finance. "I'm glad you asked," she said, "because I think it's very exciting.

Restfulness is a quality for cattle; the virtues are all active, life is alert. --Robert Louis Stevenson

Saying you're too busy to leave probably won't get you any attention, but it's still a popular line. Jody Powell will be in Washington finishing his book on the presidency and the press, which he has been working on since he left the White House.

Former NOW President Eleanor Smeal also will be working on a book. Hers is about women in presidential campaigns.

Zelda Fichandler, producing director of the Arena Stage, says she only takes "working vacations," and is considering accepting an invitation to tour villages and theater festivals in France with a cultural exchange program.

"We're in Washington this summer," Michael Botwinick, director of the Corcoran, said. "Since this is my first cycle as director I'm staying here. We're also right smack in the middle of our budget." Doesn't sound like much fun, but Botwinick isn't discouraged. "I plan to have Washington to myself. I did it one summer in New York and it was great. You can park. You can get into movies. You don't have to reserve three weeks in advance for restaurants. Of course, I'm looking on the bright side of it."

Robert Keith Gray, president of Gray and Co., was just as stoical about his summer prospects. "Mostly work," he said. "I've been overseas a ouple of times this year, and wheneXer I can squeeze a weekend in I go down to our place on Rehoboth lake. I hope your plans are better."

Evangeline Bruce, another Georgetown hostess, already has left on her annual trip to her house in London, leaving her British-born butler Michael Mangon to watch over the homestead. "I'm not going anywhere! I can't remember the last time I had a vacation," he said. But things aren't quite as bad as Mangon makes them out to be. "On weekends I'll visit friends in the mountains for a few days. That's my escape. I love the peace and quiet--I hate crowds! I'd go right now if I could!"

And finally there are those people who are so busy they don't even have time to decide they don't have time for a vacation. J. Carter Brown, director of the National Gallery, Interior Secretary James Watt, Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler, Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole and Sens. Howard Baker, Charles McC. Mathias and Paul Trible are among the noncommittal.

And for many, a wait-and-see approach may be the safest. Christine Sarbanes said she and her husband Paul, the junior senator from Maryland, haven't made any plans yet. "If we find a gap we'll try to get away. We won't know until later, when we see when the (congressional) session is going to end. We play things loose because usually (the Congress will) mess up anything we plan anyway."