The tide has gone out, way beyond the shore, beyond even the seaweed that hangs like a funky mop over the mussel rocks.

It is possible now to sit out on the granite slabs that hunker around the island, stone that is weather-marked like the skin of an old sailor, landmarked like a postcard of Maine.

I look out from my spot at the other islands in this bay. Lobster pots freckle the ocean path between us. Then I look down. Between my brown shoes there is a tidal pool that I stride like some gigantic Gulliver to its Lilliput.

Slowly my focus shifts and I can see a world that is usually invisible to me. What appeared empty sea water at first, a wash of liquid, nothing more, teems with life.

A few dozen periwinkles move infinitesimally along the rocks. A stray, displaced infant mussel hangs on to the side for its life. Across the surface, a hundred or more small water ants hurry about leaderless. I see them mass into a crowd of 50, race to one side of the pool, lose stragglers and gain newcomers, shift directions, race to the other side, on and on.

I pick a periwinkle up out of this world, put it down again on the other side. I put one bare foot into the pool, watch the life readjust to my waves, and then take it out again.

In my conceit, I fancy that this world is tiny, limited, far more limited than mine. After all, I travel by automobile-leaps and airplane-bounds in a much wider sphere. But still this domain with a diameter of 20 inches feels familiar.

My own world, more than I like to admit it, is also circumscribed like this pool. I, too, live within a radius -- a radius of job, home, deadlines and expectations. Like the water ant, I spend more time than I admit hurrying through space with my lists and my haste.

Today I have the time to wonder. I have the time to pass. I am, for one more day, on vacation. And to me the best part of vacation is always this capacity to slow down enough to pay attention.

I am no naturalist, no rafter, hiker, climber, backpacker. I am an urban dweller with well-honed skills of ignorance. I can ordinarily ignore my most immediate and obvious surroundings. I can ignore weather, dawns, sunsets, sensations.

At times, I am unable to see, to really look into the world between my feel, as the Voyager is unable to see the dust in Saturn's moon, as the water ant is unable to see its microscopic relatives.

Like many of us, generations removed from land, I now need special time to pay attention to fog and sun, weeds and wildflowers.

Only by vacating daily life, by emptying out the day until it appears as still as the glistening surface of my pool, am I able to really observe its inner life. Only by slowing down life can I focus enough to discover the berries in the bushes and the periwinkles in the warm shallow waters left by the tide.

As I sit here, I realize that I know very little about the creatures between my shoes. There is no "Wide World of the Periwinkle." No naturalist goes off into the wilderness to live with the mussel. No government funds massive programs to understand the social structure of the water ant.

I think of the pictures sent home last week by that Voyager sweeping across space as if it were no greater distance than a transoceanic flight. They were gorgeous glimpses, glances into the mysteries of Saturn.

I was impressed by the close-ups of a breathless traveler armed with only a telephoto lens. Yet they were in some ways like pictures taken of this island by a jet headed east to London.

The space ship scurried across the sky the way the water ants scurry across the surface of this pool. The way busy people can scurry across the surface of their lives, if they are not careful.

But today, instead, I wallow. Wallow in the real luxury of vacations, the time to slow down and look down and observe a single puddle-ful of life.