The dreams returned about 20 years ago. In them, the old man told her she needed to follow her destiny.

But Gina Miranda had successfully run from that destiny for most of her life. "I didn't want to learn," she said.

The dreams, coupled with a sense that she had lost her way, convinced Miranda to reconsider.

Today, the 53-year-old St. Paul woman is a rarity in the world. Featured in the Science Museum of Minnesota's "Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed," Miranda is a modern daykeeper whose blog — a blend of science and spirituality — has nearly 70,000 followers across the world.

The Maya calendar "is much more than just a calendar," Miranda said. "It is the core of an ancient philosophy and a way of life that preceded the Mayan culture by thousands of years. Everything is hidden in it. It will give you the answers."

A widow, who also goes by the last name Kingsley, Miranda grew up in Guatemala. Her father was a full-blooded Maya and political activist who counted Che Guevara and Fidel Castro as comrades. When Miranda was 8, he was killed by the Guatemalan Army. Her mother remarried, raising her and Miranda's four step- siblings largely on her own as her second husband did prison time. He returned and began physically abusing Miranda.

"All of a sudden, my grades plunged," Miranda said. In 1970, her mother became ill and was hospitalized. Her stepfather's abuse worsened.

"He told people I was nuts," she said. He took her to a psychiatric hospital in Honduras. After a battery of tests, a psychiatrist told her, "I don't know why your stepfather brought you here. We've never seen a child with this high of an IQ. You're a genius."

Miranda, sitting in the tranquil back yard of her St. Paul home earlier this week, laughs at the memory. "The crazy's him," she said of her stepfather. "Not me."

She returned home knowing she must escape. "I had this idea about the open ocean — infinity," she said. "I needed to go to the ocean."

The little girl packed a backpack and began the 160-mile walk toward the Caribbean Sea. "After walking for 10 miles in the middle of the night, I got hungry," she said. "I hadn't planned on that."

'You must be a runaway'

She hitchhiked until she reached the water. She slept in the sand for a few nights before a fisherman, combing the beach with his nets, approached her and asked why she was there. "I live here, in the town," she lied.

"You don't live here," he said. "You must be a runaway." He told her to come with him to his village, where he and his family would protect her.

The man was the shaman who later appeared in her dreams. For three years, Miranda lived with them in the jungle. Despite dirt floors and hard work, she calls those years "a magical time. He was like the father I didn't have."

He taught her to fish, and about the complex workings of the Maya calendar. One day is a kin. One year is a tun. At the moment of birth, we each are suffused with ancestral spiritual forces from our families that will affect our destinies until we die.

"I thought it was weird," Miranda said. She did everything she could to block him out. The old man persevered.

"Why don't you teach this to your kids?" she finally asked in frustration.

"They were not chosen for this," he said. She later learned that the spirits told the shaman that the person chosen to replace him when he died would be found on a certain date on the beach. It was the date he discovered Miranda.

"He told me when he saw me that he was shocked by my young age. But then he thought, 'Who am I to contradict what the spirits want?' "

At 14, Miranda returned home, found menial work and dreamed of being a marine biologist. Instead, she earned a degree in computer programming and protested for better health and education. She was thrown into jail, then released by a soldier warning her to "get out of this country."

She came to Minnesota in the 1990s to join family, taking archaeology classes at Hamline University. She became a workaholic, her internal compass no longer steady. Then she became ill. When the dreams came, she returned to what she knew best.

In a chat room, Miranda began teaching others about the Maya calendar, using NASA sky data and mathematical equations, along with spiritual guidance, in her interpretations. She said her blog now has more than 26,000 followers in Mexico, another 14,700 in the United States. Others come from Spain and Russia and many other countries.

She knows that some see her gift as suspect. The gentle, soft-spoken Miranda doesn't worry about that. She's not out to convince anybody of anything.

On the other hand, many Maya people call her their "prophet." She's far more uncomfortable with that.

The Science Museum's lead exhibit developer, Joanne Jones-Rizzi, feels lucky to have found Miranda through word of mouth. "She's this ultimate combination of ancient practice and contemporary science, coming together in the modern world," Jones-Rizzi said.

Miranda is pleased with the growing interest in ancient daykeeping. "This is knowledge for humanity, so people can understand themselves," she said. "I am bursting to talk about it. I want to teach this to people so it's not lost again."